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Spring/Summer 2024 edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Spring/Summer 2024

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Winslow Parker, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Nonfiction: Kate Chamberlin, Marilyn Brandt Smith, lisa Busch, and Brad Corallo
  • Poetry: Abbie Johnson Taylor, Leonard Tuchyner, Brad Corallo, Sally Rosenthal, and Sandra Streeter
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith

Submission Guidelines

Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.

Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.

Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.

We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.

All work submitted must be original. We do not accept work written by an AI or any form of plagiarism.

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to The word count for fiction and nonfiction book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Poetry book excerpts should be limited to five poems. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format, either an eBook or audio format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Authors under age 18: Please include a statement from a parent or guardian that indicates awareness of your submission of literary work to Magnets and Ladders.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of “Magnets and Ladders”. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

Please email all submissions to Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. When possible, please send your submissions as a Word or txt attachment as many email programs have been reformatting poetry and putting unwanted line breaks in stories and essays. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
for publication.

Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.

Audio Versions of Some Past Issues are Available for Your Listening Pleasure

The Perkins Library for the Blind has been recording issues of Magnets and Ladders for several years. In 2017, these recordings became available on cartridge to patrons of The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. For many of our readers, the Perkins recording of each edition of Magnets and Ladders is their only access to the magazine. Other readers may enjoy the pleasure of hearing the stories and poems performed by the Perkins narrators after reading the magazine online. In the fall of 2022, we were given permission, by Perkins, to upload mp3 files of magazine recordings. Back issues starting with the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of Magnets and Ladders are available now at Please check back often, as we anticipate adding more back issues soon.

About Behind Our Eyes

Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, “Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities”, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look” is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at

Table of Contents

Editors’ Welcome


The Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders is filled with poems, stories, articles, and essays highlighting many of our longtime favorite authors alongside some new voices.

The Behind Our Eyes community was saddened to hear about the deaths of three current and past members.

Paul Ellner passed away in April, 2023. Although Paul wrote some poetry and memoirs, he was well known for his fiction with a supernatural flare. Paul had several pieces featured in past issues of Magnets and Ladders

John Justice Passed away in November, 2023. Longtime readers of Magnets and Ladders and members of Behind Our Eyes will remember John's many memoirs about his childhood and experiences as a piano tuner and entertainer.

Robert Sollars passed away in January, 2024. He will be remembered by Behind Our Eyes Members for his many poems posted to our mailing list. He also loved cats.

Be sure to read our “In Memoriam” section for previously published stories by Paul, John, and Robert. We also have a book review of one of the many books authored by John Justice reviewed by Abbie Johnson Taylor. See Abbie's book review immediately following John's memoir.

The Behind Our Eyes community has some exciting news. Our third anthology, Behind Our Eyes 3: A Literary Sunburst, featuring poems, stories, and essays previously published in Magnets and Ladders along with new material is available to purchase an eBook and print. It is available from Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and others. We are working with Amazon to make it available there as well.

Once again, we welcome a guest judge for one of our contests. Nolan Crabb has generously volunteered to be our guest judge for the nonfiction contest for the Fall/Winter and Spring/Summer editions. Nolan has an extensive background in editing and disability services.

Nolan Crabb is a native of Ogden, Utah where he attended the Utah School for the Blind and graduated from Weber High School.

Nolan holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Brigham Young University. He also holds a certification as an assistive technology trainer from the Accessible Technology Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

Nolan spent much of his working life as a writer and editor. He was a general assignment reporter for the Ogden Standard-Examiner, and he worked briefly for what is now the Deseret Morning News in Salt Lake City. He has held editing jobs in northern California and Chicago and was, for nine years, the editor of The Braille Forum, published by the American Council of the Blind in Washington, D.C. He also worked as the assistant editor of Dialogue Magazine, published by Blindskills, Inc. of Salem, Oregon.

Nolan was first introduced to computers in the winter of 1977 and has been working with them steadily since. In the late 1980s, when he was serving as the director of an independent living center, he began providing computer training to many of the center’s consumers. In 1999, when the opportunity became available to provide computer instruction to the staff at Rehabilitation Services for the Blind in Missouri, he was eager to once again enjoy the benefits that come with offering computer training to others.

In June, 2007, Nolan was hired at The Ohio State University as its Director of Assistive Technology-a position in which he provides training and software to disabled staff members and university faculty.

Nolan has been a member of the Missouri Assistive Technology Advisory Council. He served as a member of the advisory council for Oregon’s Talking Book and Braille Services, and he has been a member of the Oregon State Library Board of Trustees. He represented the American Council of the Blind as a member of the National Association of Radio Reading Services board of directors. In 2023, he signed on as a co-host of Legend Book Talk, a weekly podcast dedicated to reviewing and recommending books to podcast listeners.

Nolan describes himself as a voracious reader. In his spare time, he continues to do some freelance writing and dabbles in the field of audio book narration and digital audio production. In early 2008, he created an Internet mailing list dedicated to the writing and distribution of book reviews focusing on books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Known as DB-Review, The list specifically focuses on digital talking books, and its members are encouraged to share reviews and comments regarding books they have read. From an initial membership of some 50 people, the list has grown to include more than 300 members, most of whom post their reviews and thoughts on books.

He and his wife, the former Valerie Hekking of Benyon, Utah, are the parents of four daughters and the grandparents of ten grandchildren.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members, Nolan Crabb, Marilyn Brandt Smith, and Jason Smith for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Below are the Magnets and Ladders Spring/Summer 2024 contest winners


  • First Place: “Space Tapestry” by Shawn Jacobson
  • Second Place: “Homecoming” by Gavin Ross
  • Honorable Mention: “Data Overflow” by Nicole Massey
  • Honorable Mention: “Do You Believe In Magic?” by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega


  • First Place: “Pageant for a Queen” by Sarah Das Gupta
  • Second Place: “Riding Behind the Racers” by Shawn Jacobson
  • Honorable Mention: “Tony Bennett's Moon over Milwaukee” by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
  • Honorable Mention: The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron, reviewed by Kate Chamberlin


  • First Place: “Ship of Theseus” by Brit Nycum
  • Second Place: “Collateral Damage” by Sally Rosenthal
  • Honorable Mention: “Arctic” by Christian Ward
  • Honorable Mention: “In Spring There are Babies” by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Congratulations to all of the contest winners.

The Magnets and Ladders staff wishes you a safe and happy summer.

Part I. In Memorium

The Plot, fiction
by Paul D. Ellner

At 5:20 on a spring afternoon in 1956, Doctor George Rosen pulled into the parking lot of the Piggly-Wiggly Market in Gainesville, Florida. He jumped out of his car and walked briskly into the market. He stole a quick glance at the checkout line. Yes, Laurie was there. Consulting the list Evelyn gave him, he grabbed a cart and started shopping. He soon finished and took his place in the checkout line.

As the line shortened, George started to unload his cart in preparation for checking out. His heart began to beat faster. He could not keep his eyes off Laurie. She was beautiful. When it was his turn, she recognized him with a ready smile.

“Hi, Dr. Rosen.”

He had to clear his throat before responding. “Hi, Laurie, how are you today?”

“I'm just fine,” she said. Then in a lower voice she added, “When will we take those pictures?”

“Soon, Laurie. In the next few days, I'll let you know.”

Laurie was about 20, with large blue eyes, a pert nose and a wide mouth. Her dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail secured with a rubber band. She wore black pedal pushers, tight enough to accentuate her round bottom and long legs. Her white blouse failed to conceal the cleavage of her young breasts.

George was an instructor in Pharmacology at the University of Florida, his first position since receiving his Ph.D. At 32, he was one of the youngest researchers there. He and Evelyn moved into a small house not far from the medical school and Priscilla, their three-year-old, started nursery school.

George and Evelyn were soon immersed in the town-gown social life. Most of their friends were other young faculty members. George played poker once a week with some colleagues. They called their group the “Committee for Redistribution of Faculty Salaries.”

For the past few weeks, George flirted with Laurie each time he went shopping. She stirred his loins like no girl ever had. He and Evelyn were married for five years and up till now he never strayed, but this girl was different. He could not help himself. He wanted her and plotted to seduce her.

George formulated a plan. He complimented Laurie on her looks and suggested she could be a model.

“That's cool. Actually, I was a runner-up for the Miss Florida contest last year. I always wanted to be a model,” Laurie gushed. She went on to tell him that she had been a cheerleader at Gainesville High's football games. Laurie knew George worked at the medical school. He was some sort of a doctor, so he must be okay.

“I can take some pictures of you which could be used for model agencies,” George told her.

Laurie was enthusiastic. “How much will it cost?” she asked.

“Nothing. I'd be glad to do it.”

George figured he would meet her after work, drive to a deserted place he knew out in the Palmettos and convince her to pose nude. Then, he would make love to her. At night, George fantasized a naked Laurie beneath him, gasping with passion, her long legs wrapped around his hips, as he…

On the day George had arranged to pick up Laurie, he was anxious.

“Are you okay, Dr. Rosen?” Grace, his technician asked. “You seem kind of jumpy.”

George assured her he was fine.

At 5:30 he met Laurie at the Piggly-Wiggly and drove out into the country. They walked a short distance into the Palmettos where he knew of a small natural pool surrounded by sand.

“This is a good spot,” he said.

He posed Laurie in sexy positions with the pool in the background and took a number of photos.

“Now we'll take some as if you're going to go skinny-dipping.” He directed her to face the pool and remove her blouse. “Take off your bra too, and hold your blouse over your head as if you were just removing it.” Laurie complied without hesitation. “That's great,” he said, and took a few shots. At this point, George planned to tell her to turn around and face him so that he could feast his eyes on those luscious young breasts. Then he would…

Suddenly, a voice in his head warned. Whoa boy, what are you doing? You could be in deep shit! Evelyn could find out and divorce you. It would get out. You could lose your job, and that would be the end of your career. She's not worth the risk.

“Okay,” he said huskily. “You can get dressed.”

Laurie seemed disappointed. “Is that all?” She seemed quite willing to share her charms and all the allure of young Southern pulchritude for him and his camera.

During the drive back, Laurie seemed confused. “Did you get all the pictures you wanted? Are you sure that's enough?”

“I think they will be fine. I'll have them for you in a few days.”

At the market, Laurie got out of the car. “Thanks, Dr. Rosen. See you.” George could not get away fast enough.

A week later two police officers appeared at George's laboratory.
“Are you Dr. George Rosen?” one of them asked.

“Yes, that's me. What can I do for you?”

“Could you please step outside for a minute?” the officer said.

George accompanied them into the hallway. “What's the problem?” he asked.

“We'd like you to come down to the station with us,” the officer told him.

“Why? Is this a traffic thing? Has my license expired? What…”

“Do you know a Laurie McCauley?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Has anything happened to her?” George's mouth was suddenly dry.

“When did you last see her?” the officer asked, ignoring George's question.

“About a week ago, in the market. What are these questions about?”

“She claims that you raped her,” the officer said. “Let's go.”

George became aware that Grace and some other people stared as he and the police officers walked away.

At the police station a detective questioned George.

“Am I under arrest?” George asked.

“We're going to detain you for a while,” the detective said. He led George to a cell and locked him inside.

“You have the right to phone anyone,” he told George.

George tried to call Evelyn ,but she was not home. He had to wait several hours until he was able to reach her.

“What do you mean you're in jail?” Evelyn asked. “What did you do?”

“Are you alone?” George asked.

“Just me and Prissy.”

“I'm accused of raping a girl.”

“What?” Evelyn screamed.

“I didn't do it,” George said, “but I think I need a lawyer.”

The next day, a smartly dressed man was admitted to George's cell. He handed a business card to George. “I'm Joe Morelli. Your lawyer.”

George took a minute to look him over. He was of average height, balding, with an almond colored complexion.

“Tell me about it,” Morelli said. “Did you do it?”


“What happened then?” Morelli asked.

“Nothing happened. I just took her out to take some pictures. I didn't touch her.”

The lawyer looked unconvinced. “Why were you taking pictures of her?”

“She told me she wanted to be a model. I was trying to help her.”

“Is that the whole story? You didn't—like hug her or anything?”

George bristled. “I told you I didn't touch her.”

“Then why do you think she says you raped her?”

George shook his head. “I don't know.”

“Okay, I'm going to try and get you out on bail,” Morelli told him as he left.

The following day George stood before a judge with Morelli at his side. “Your honor, the defendant is a faculty member at the Medical School and a family man. He's not likely to flee.”

The judge looked at George. “Bail is set at $10,000.” The trial would take place in two weeks.

Morelli drove George home. “Don't leave town,” he told George as he dropped him off in front of his house. George could see that some of the neighbors were watching.

George went back to work, but he was aware that his colleagues tried to avoid him. Even Grace was unusually silent. At home, Evelyn said nothing, but she slept in the guest room.

During the next two weeks, George endured the coldness of his colleagues and friends. In the faculty dining room, he was obliged to eat a solo lunch each day.

At 9:00 on a cloudy morning, George entered the courtroom with his lawyer. George told his lawyer he wanted the opportunity to take the stand and tell his side of the story, but Morelli disagreed. “It'll be better if I do the talking,” Morelli told him.

The trial was brief. The assistant district attorney prosecuting the case started by describing Laurie as a sweet, innocent, hard-working young woman.

Laurie sat between her father and her brother. Mr. McCauley, a large man, who worked at the feed store in town, looked grim and her brother, a muscular man, glared at George.

The prosecutor went on to describe how George had enticed Laurie into the Palmettos, promising to take some photos and then attacked her. He went on to describe how she struggled. He produced a large photograph of George's torso, which was entered into evidence. The picture showed four parallel scratch marks running diagonally across George's chest. The prosecutor rested his case.

Morelli rose and called Laurie to take the stand. He asked her why she had not sought medical attention after the alleged incident. Laurie blushed and said that she had been too embarrassed. Morelli asked her if she ever had sexual relations before this, but the prosecutor raised an objection, which was sustained. There was little more Morelli could say.

The jury retired but was back in ten minutes.

“Have you reached a verdict?” the judge asked.

The Foreman nodded and handed the Bailiff a slip of paper.

“The Defendant will rise,” the judge ordered. George and Morelli stood. The judge opened the slip of paper. “The jury finds you guilty of rape.” George slumped forward. “I sentence you to be confined in the state penitentiary for three to five years.” He banged his gavel.

George rushed over to the bench. “It's not true!” he yelled at the judge. “I'll tell you the truth now. I really wanted to—have sex with her, but I chickened out. I never laid a finger on her.”

“Bailiff, remove the Defendant,” the judge called. Two deputies rushed forward, pinioned George's arms, handcuffed him and dragged him from the courtroom.

“I didn't touch her,” George screamed. “I didn't touch…”

“You didn't touch who?” Evelyn asked. “Wake up, George. You were dreaming.”

George opened his eyes. It was dark. He lay in bed with Evelyn next to him. He was covered with sweat. My God, it was all a dream—just a damn dream.

In the morning George dressed and went down for breakfast. He felt like a new man. “Good morning, Daddy,” Priscilla chirped as he bent to kiss her. Evelyn served him bacon, eggs and grits, poured his coffee and smiled as she sat down at the table.

At work everything was normal. Grace greeted him with a smile, and his friends joined him for lunch.

The prints of the photos he had taken of Laurie were delivered to his office. He could not bear to look at them. When he left work, George took the prints and drove to the Piggly-Wiggly. He did not shop but got into Laurie's checkout line. When it was his turn, she greeted him with a cheery “Hi, Dr. Rosen. How are you today?”

“Here are the pictures,” George said as he handed the photos to her. His hands were shaking. He started to leave.

“Thanks a lot, Dr. Rosen”. he heard her call as he left. He would never shop at that market again.

That evening was a quiet one. At bedtime, Evelyn, already in bed, watched George as he pulled on his pajamas.

“George! What happened to your chest?”

George looked down, dismayed to see four parallel scratch marks that ran diagonally across his chest. They had already started to heal.

“the Plot” earned an Honorable Mention and was published in the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders

Bio: Dr. Ellner passed away at the age of 98 in April 2023. He served in the U.S. Navy in World War II. He received a Ph.D. at the University of Maryland College of Medicine. He taught microbiology and infectious disease to medical students at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as Professor of Microbiology and Pathology.

He published many articles and several medical books. Dr. Ellner became deaf twenty- five years ago and blind fifteen years later. He had written
poetry and self-published four novels, a biography, and a collection of short stories. He had a blog “Visions of a Blind Writer.” He lived in Connecticut with his wife and guide dog.

Tidal Wave, memoir
by John Justice

A tidal wave is usually caused by a disturbance in the ocean floor. When that happens, tremendous force is released, and the ocean water responds in a predictable, measurable way. Picture a pail of water. If you run your fingers through the surface, there is some reaction but it's slight and disappears almost immediately. However, if you put your hand deep into the pail and then move it, all the water reacts. If your motion is hard enough, water will spill right over the lip of the pail. When an earthquake occurs, the ocean is disturbed in a unique way. The reaction begins right on the ocean floor. Waves begin at the origin and they will keep traveling unless they impact something which changes their movement. If those waves impact the ocean's bed when the depth becomes shallower, the same thing will happen which causes surf in normal conditions. But unlike normal swells, the tidal disturbance is hundreds of times more powerful than the average oceanic activity.

Tidal waves and volcanic disturbances are common in the Pacific, but they aren't supposed to happen in the Atlantic Ocean, on a warm August day and certainly not on the new jersey shore. In some locations, it is possible to walk almost half a mile out into the ocean and still be above the surface. Unlike islands in the Pacific, the slope or grade of the ocean floor is very gradual.

I have read many books about tidal waves and was fascinated by the damage they can cause. Most people who live on the East coast have never experienced this phenomenon. I had just finished a book which provided a detailed description of what was felt, heard, smelled and lived through.

I was about five hundred yards out, following the safety rope. As usual, I was waiting for a swell to come up and then I would use my raft to body-surf back onto the beach. As a blind person, I used my ears to listen for the whisper of a good-sized swell. I'd try to be right where the surf would begin.

First, I felt a rumble beneath my feet. That was my first clue. That wasn’t normal. Then, all the water drained away. All that remained were a few puddles where water had been trapped by variations in the sandy floor. Then the wind changed direction and began to blow toward the beach. This wasn't a gradual change. One minute, I had been feeling a crosswind, the next, the wind was blowing right into my face. Then, I noticed the smell. Sometimes, I can smell something like that when the tide goes out, but this was stronger. It was a mixture of mud, salt and fish. Finally, I heard a sound I'll never forget. It was still far away but I heard something that sounded like a very large wave or a waterfall. The ground began to vibrate under my feet. It felt like the sensation of standing on an elevated platform when a train is coming. That did it! I grabbed my raft and ran toward the beach.

I heard people responding to what they must have been seeing. “Oh my God!” “Look at That!” “What is it?” “Let's get out of here!”

The sound was getting louder. I climbed the stairs and wondered what to do when I remembered the long benches all along the seawall. They were permanently mounted to the concrete and I knew if I could find one and hold onto it, I might be battered but I'd be relatively safe. I found a bench, squeezed my raft onto it and held on for dear life.

Waiting for that thing to reach me was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had. I was told later that the wave was more than thirty feet high when it reached the beach. The seawall is high in many places. When the wave struck it, much of the power was absorbed. What hit me was probably only part of the wave. The wall shook, and I was surrounded by a lot of angry water. Several small things hit me and were then washed out onto Beach Drive. One of the things that passed me was a small plastic cooler. It hit my hand, so I grabbed it, but the power of the wave soon pulled it out of my grasp.

I could hear the water splashing onto the surface of Beach Drive. There were cars parked along the inside of the wall and I'll bet that they were damaged by the saltwater.

In about five minutes, the water began to recede. Gradually, the flood drained away, but the beach was a mess. Someone warned me not to go down onto the sand in my bare feet. “There's all kinds of junk down there. Some of it looks like broken wood. I see animals I never knew were in this part of the ocean. It's not a safe place to be, especially with bare feet. You are blind, so you won't be able to avoid anything that might hurt you.” I listened to him and made my way back to our store.

They closed the beach and it took the rest of the day for everything to be cleaned up. When I finally went down there, there were big trashcans filled with things like portable radios, flip flops, towels, clothing of all kinds and heaven knows what else. Surprisingly, no one was killed or seriously injured. I can imagine that some of those cars sustained a lot of damage. Saltwater doesn't mix well with vehicles.

I spent most of my time on the beach in Cape May and that tidal wave didn't keep me away for long. Somehow, I knew what to do and did it. Hanging onto that bench probably saved me from being thrown against cars, posts or buildings.

In the Pacific, people travel for hundreds of miles to “surf” and they look for big waves. For me, that's the one and only time I want to be anywhere near a wave that large.

“Tidal Wave” was published in the Spring/Summer edition of *Magnets and Ladders.

Bio: John Justice was totally blind by age three, due to Congenital Glaucoma, a rare and devastating disease which impacts the eyes directly and results in blindness from damage to the optic nerves. John was a professional writer and entertainer with more than fifty years of experience. He lived in Hatboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Linda. John has many books currently in print. Further information about his work can be found at the following web address. John passed away in November, 2023.

Music Highs and Lows, book review
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

Love Letters in the Grand: The Adventures and Misadventures of a Big City Piano Tuner
By John Justice
Copyright 2017

In this collection of stories, the author, totally blind, relates his experiences tuning pianos in New York City and Philadelphia during the 1960's and 70's. Some tales are humorous like “It Won't Play If You Don't Pay,” in which he describes his way of dealing with a customer who refused to pay for his services. Others showcase how unfairly he was treated by some customers, e.g. “Unintended Disaster,” in which he was blamed for breaking a music lamp on a piano top after being told it was clear.

Some stories don't have much to do with piano tuning, like “Star's Rippingly Good Solution,” in which he explains how his guide dog handled a mugger on a New York City subway. In the title story, he relates how he found a packet of love letters inside a grand piano. At the end, he explains how he met his second wife at a rehabilitation facility for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas, and eventually married her and found other employment while still tuning pianos on the side.

Since I play the piano, I was fascinated by his explanation of the inner workings of the instrument, as he related his various experiences. I liked his descriptions of Madison Square Garden and the Lincoln Center where he was sent to tune pianos. Because I as once a registered music therapist, my favorite piece was “Song for Adrienne,” in which his playing of a familiar Christmas carol touched the heart of a young woman in a psychiatric hospital.

His quote at the end says it all. “Life is like a piano. It has highs and lows, but when all is said and done, it is an instrument on which we all must play our tunes.”

“Music Highs and Lows” was posted on Abbie’s blog in November, 2017 at:

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor has published three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in The Weekly Avocet, Magnets and Ladders, and other publications.

She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming, with her robotic cat Joy, where she worked as a registered music therapist with nursing home residents and in other facilities. She also cared for her late husband, who was totally blind and suffered two paralyzing strokes after they were married. This is the subject of her memoir and many of her poems.
Please visit her website at:

Love of a Human, fiction
by Robert D. Sollars

Robert’s hand extended palm up with a nugget of something. A tiny pink nose sniffed with interest and then daintily grabbed the tasty morsel with her teeth and sat down. She did deserve it after all, it was just unfair that she only got them twice a day, she squeaked in a soft quiet meow.

“Good girl Jasmine. You are such a good little squeakers for me. I don't know what I'd do if I had to live here all alone.” The sixtyish balding man said to his constant companion. “I love you little girl. Now you go protect the house while I get some sleep.” He smiled and stroked her long lustrous fur as she luxuriated in the long even strokes of his hand, closing her yellow eyes, and arching her back and tail, then he lightly rubbed her face. At that, he snuggled under the down comforter and flannel sheets.

Jasmine leapt off of the bed and began her nightly routine. She walked slowly and patiently throughout the house, sniffing at the doors and windows for anything untoward. She sat expressionless, staring at the falling snow outside the warm comfort of the house. Finally, she was satisfied the house was safe. Jasmine sat in front of the Christmas tree, mesmerized by the tiny twinkling lights. She batted at an ornament and a light but quickly tired of the game.

She decided it was time to get Robert’s gift. She carefully extracted the thing she had cornered and killed that morning in the dining room. She placed it carefully next to the two brightly wrapped gifts marked with a single name… Jasmine. She again sniffed excitedly at them but could smell nothing but tape gum and paper.

A few hours later the 10-pound ball of gray tortoise shell fur walked gently onto Robert's body and began to soften her new bed. She turned around and kneaded several more times before settling down and flicking her tail across his head. His deep rhythmic breathing and heartbeat giving her a sense of comfort and security.

He barely noticed her climbing on him. He snorted lightly in his sleep and soon was again sleeping soundly, oblivious to everything around him except for the erotic dream that was causing… a reaction.

Jasmine's ears twitched ever so slightly as she tuned in to the noises going on outside in an ever-present cat sleep. Dogs whining and barking, cats creeping to catch treats. People arguing and others laughing.

A noise she didn't recognize right outside brought her to nearly full alert. Her ears moved forward, and her nose twitched. Again, the noise, but still she was unconcerned. The noise came to her ears again and now it was time for action.

Robert was still blissfully unaware of anything lurking in the blackness of the below zero North Dakota winter night. Jasmine reached full awareness with her eyes opening wide, her golden eyes turning nearly coal black as she watched the blackness for anything.

She leapt towards the door as glass shattered. She raced down the hall to see a hand reaching in to unlock the door. She felt the bite of the wintry wind blowing through the door as it opened. Robert also heard the glass shatter and then felt the blast of cold air entering the bedroom, awakening him.

He threw on his robe and went to investigate, shuffling slowly. As he approached his office, he heard voices and was startled by a man appearing in front of him. “What the hell are you doing here?” Robert queried.

“We're taking your stuff you useless old man!” the voice said with a chilling finality. Missing and decayed teeth showed as he opened his mouth and said “Where is the money you broken down slug? We want it and we want it all!” he whispered in a voice that was desperate.

“I have no money here.” Robert somehow found inner strength and flung himself at the younger, bigger man. He began flailing his fists at him striking him in the face drawing flecks of blood.

The younger man thrust upward with a long-bladed hunting knife deep into Robert's belly ripping the jagged blade up until it hit bone, twisted, and tried to find the heart. A surprised gasp erupted from Robert and he fell off of the man onto his back. Crimson streams of blood spurted and pooled on his pale white skin and then puddled on the tiled floor as he gasped and writhed in pain.

The young man stood up and inspected the job the knife had done. He then heard a low growl coming from …where. It seemed to be all around him, sending shivers up his spine. “Come on Jackson we gotta get out of here. Somethings wrong. I just heard a lion… tiger… or something.” The look on his face had gone from confident to frighten, turning white as the virgin snow outside.

His companion walked out of the home office and said “There is nothing in this house, man. Just a bunch of crap and an ancient computer that wouldn't bring even a couple of Washingtons! He ain't got no drugs or money. Hell there ain't nothing of value in this place. I agree, let's get the hell out of here.” He said disgustedly.

Jackson started walking down the hall and gave the dying man a slight glance “Will he be dead soon? Don't want no damned witnesses. If he ain't yet, make him de…” his body froze and his heart stopped as he heard the growling of a large cat. His eyes flew open spinning around looking for it.

The younger man looked ready to cry as he heard it again as well. “Man, I ain't gonna wait for nothin, I'm gettin outa here and screw him recognizing us. There ain't no damned big cats up here! It's eerie as hell!” he said in a voice that cracked.

Jackson pushed the younger man out of the way as they got closer to the door. They heard the growl again, louder, closer, and angrier. As Jackson reached for the handle a large paw with razor sharp claws grabbed his hand and fangs tore at it.

He turned around and saw his young accomplice staring at his feet while they screamed. Jackson looked down and saw gold eyes glaring at them. Those eyes shown as if illuminated by an inner light, and a low Menacing growl emanated from its throat, fangs in full view.

The large bobcat sized tortoise shell colored wildcat, with an unusually long bushy tail, ripped Jackson’s clothes into strips of red cloth from his ski cap to his snow boots. A final swipe in the face and Jackson went down heavily onto the tiled floor, blood spilling out of his wounds.

The younger man, still wailing, tried to make it to the front door. The cat leapt onto his back digging its claws and fangs deeply into him refusing to let go, treating him like dinner. Gouges appeared in his head, neck, back, and legs. Blood began to gush through the wounds like a flooding river in spring. But the agonizing screams soon fell silent.

“911. What is your emergency?” the soft and sleepy, feminine voice answered. “911. What is your emergency?” she repeated but only agonized wheezes came to her. She looked at the house number on her screen. Another attempt and then another. Still nothing. Her fingers flew over the keyboard and entered the address. The message box to the deputy said succinctly “phone line is open and nothing but breathing heard.”

The deputy arrived and knocked. “Hello, this is the Ward County Sheriff's office is anyone there?” His flashlight moved around the front of the house and saw nothing unusual. He again knocked but still nothing. He listened intently and heard something that he couldn't immediately identify.

He walked around to the back and saw the shattered door glass and a man lying in a pool of blood. He drew his weapon and entered. He was startled to full combat alertness when he heard a large mountain type cat growling. He quickly scanned the immediate area of the room with his flashlight but saw nothing. The menacing growl quickly faded into another puzzling noise… the faint squeaking meow of a house cat. “I have to be jumpy about something here.” He whispered to himself.

He pulled out his radio and thumbed the button. “County! This is Rogers. I have an emergency at 710 West Sacajawea Rd, a half mile west of highway 83, mile marker 110. I need an ambulance and more units. I need them now! One injured with severe trauma to his entire body.”

He checked the man and found him still breathing with the bleeding slowing to a trickle. Rogers stood up and then saw the young man. He checked his pulse and found nothing. “From the looks of it, you bled out. Wonder what did this?” he said whispering to himself as he examined the long slashes occasionally interrupted by massive bites.

He again stood up and continued down the hall when he spotted Robert lying in a drying puddle of blood. A stab wound appeared quite deep but wasn't bleeding. He knelt down and found him breathing regularly and his pulse was strong and not pounding like he would have expected with this kind of vicious knife attack and amount of splattered blood.

He felt like he was being watched, looking up to see a pair of golden eyes staring intently at him, with curiosity and vigilance, from just inches away. Jasmine's paws were on Robert's shoulder staring at the deputy intently.

“Hello kitty. Are you okay? Is this your human?” he reached out and gently brushed her head as she meowed quietly and demurely. Her eyes closed as her nose, ears, and tail twitched in contentment.

“It looks like he's going to be okay. Not like those two out there. Which reminds me I have to go look after them, well one at least. Your human should be fine. Just stay and watch out for him until the ambulance gets here. I'll take you to a shelter until he gets back home.” He stood up and went back to the front as sirens stopped.

The ambulance team loaded Robert and Jackson and sped away, sirens wailing in the clear crisp air. The coroner's meat wagon took the body of the accomplice away slowly. Rogers then thought about the cat and began a hunt for her but couldn't find her in the house.

Fearing for the safety of the beautiful house cat he searched the frigid snowy yard but found nothing but large cat paw prints and a dead rabbit on the freshly fallen snow. “No small paws just those of a large mountain cat?” He said as he locked up the house, pondering the inconsistency of the inexplicable house cat and large paw prints.

“Love of a Human” was the First Place winner of the 2017 National Federation of the Blind fiction contest and was published in the Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Bio: Robert had been blind since 2003. He had a passion for helping other writers get published. He founded an online group for blind writers called Writing in the Dark. A new person in his life encouraged him to begin writing poetry again. He had been writing since 1978: fiction, poetry, and nonfiction. Most of his writing has been focused on security & customer service. He lived in Tempe, AZ with his wife Eileen, best friend Angela, and a dutiful guardian kitty Major General Jasmine, Chief of CatFleet Security. Robert Passed away in January 2024.

Part II. People, Places, and the Unforgettable

Pageant for a Queen, memoir Nonfiction First Place
by Sarah Das Gupta

On June 2nd, 1953, I was all of eleven years, three months old. The whole village of Surrey had been in a state of barely suppressed excitement for weeks. The death of the King had not had a major impact on me. He had been a grainy image in newspapers, a shadowy figure in the war. I didn't really want to remember uniforms. I had been shown pictures of my father as a young naval lieutenant who didn't look much like the friendly dad now exercising the dogs or raking the hay meadow. Uniforms made me think of Uncle Tommy who had drowned in a bizarre disaster when the liner, the Queen Mary, ran into his cruiser off the coast of Ireland.

He'd been dad's best friend and my godfather. We didn't talk about him. His sister, Julia, an equally distant figure, dutifully sent me handkerchiefs on my birthday. They seemed somehow too sacred to actually use on a snotty nose.

Dead people were a special breed. You didn't mention them much. The war dead belonged to an even more rarefied group. There was a girl called Diana in my class whose father had died in a prison camp. We never asked her about him.

The new Queen about to be crowned was different. She was young and less remote. Her name meant something. I knew about Elizabeth1, Drake, the Spanish Armada and Shakespeare. I'd just watched my first film, projected on the wall of our school which was housed in an old army hut. It was Shakespeare's Henry V and dedicated to the Battle of Britain pilots. I realised, I think for the first time, the beauty and power of language.

The coronation of the young queen was an occasion to be celebrated after the grey years of war and post war recovery. Meat was still rationed even in that coronation year.

Our village had to mark this occasion in some memorable way. At school, we already had a grand sports day. I managed to win the sack race by a few centimetres with a huge, lunging leap. I landed flat on my face after crossing the line. The prize was a blue propelling pencil. Yet, this was no ordinary pencil. At its end, was a model of the royal crown – well worth the swollen nose I had suffered after my victorious leap.

There had been maypole dancing, too, on the village green. The boys often sabotaged the practices by deliberately tangling the long ribbons and ruining the intricate plaited patterns we had been weaving down the pole. However, they managed a successful performance when the day arrived.

It was decided, by the great and good of the village, that a magnificent pageant
featuring the famous Queens of the past would be staged to mark this new Elizabethan Age.

I was cast as a Roundhead soldier, a pikeman from Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army from the period of the English Civil War. I wondered whether the Queen would have approved of this. After all, one of her predecessors, Charles1, had been beheaded on Cromwell's orders.

I told my father I was worried about this. He roared with laughter and said he thought, “She won't be too upset.”

For weeks I practised riding my grey pony round the fields and woods with the pike resting on the stirrup. At first, he was nervous. He shied away from the long pole, probably suspecting it would be used as a weapon against him. After several weeks of my looking slightly eccentric, wandering around the lanes with a seventeenth century pike, the pony ignored it.

The weekend before the coronation itself, was the day of the pageant. It was a warm, May afternoon. A long line of figures in costumes ranging from Roman Britain to the Second World War stretched back to the next village. I barely recognised some of the local faces.

At the head of the procession was Boudica, Queen of the Iceni and thorn in the flesh of the Romans. Green grocer, Molly Brown, looked entirely convincing with her tangled black hair and her face painted bright blue with “woad.” Her chariot was pulled by Exmoor ponies. Of course, Elizabeth1 was at the centre of the pageant. Mrs Grey looked magnificent to me with her red hair, a sparkling crown and beautiful pure white horse. There had been a few disputes about her being cast as Elizabeth. She was always at the centre of village gossip. She lived alone in a secluded house, detached from the village and no one had ever seen Mr. Grey. She dyed her hair, and there were a few murmurs of protest at her playing the Virgin Queen! To my eleven-year-old eyes, she was perfect. I could picture her addressing the troops at Tilbury.

I was amazed at the crowds round the village green. Cromwell's pikemen gave a good account of themselves and Queen Victoria, on a Highland pony, led by the faithful John Brown, looked the image of paintings I had seen of the old Queen at her Diamond Jubilee.

The day ended, like most village celebrations, at one or other of the local pubs. The children sat outside with crisps and lemonade, while the adults toasted the new Queen with something a little stronger. Perhaps the most striking memory of the day was seeing Queen Victoria enjoying a shandy with Charles 1. Fortunately, his head was still intact!

Bio: Sarah Das Gupta is an 82 year old retired teacher from Cambridge, UK. She began writing while in hospital afer an accident. She is learning to walk again.
Her work has been published in many magazines and countries including US, UK, Canada, Australia, India, Germany, Croatia and Romania.

Tony Bennett's Moon over Milwaukee, memoir nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

June 6, 2014, not only marked the fifth anniversary of my receiving my third Leader Dog Zoe, a magnificent Black Labrador/Golden Retriever Mix, but also the evening when my sister (from Colorado), and I went to Milwaukee's Riverside Theater (on Wisconsin Avenue) for a Tony Bennett concert.

First opened in April of 1928, the Riverside Theater was renovated for a re-opening in 1984 with the debut concert in the restored theater by Tony Bennett. When my sister and I listened to the 2014 performance by Mr. Bennett, the experience was bittersweet because Anthony Dominick Benedetto-Tony Bennett-was my dad's favorite singer. As I listened to the famous singer, tears came to my eyes that lovingly recalled my father's beautiful baritone voice, as well as the Tony Bennett albums that I gave to my dad for birthday or Christmas gifts. In my collection of LPs, I still have these Tony Bennett 33-1/3 records in an old, but special album case.

Since the acoustics are outstanding in the Riverside Theater, in the midst of the 2014 concert, Mr. Bennett told his audience that he wanted to sing one song without a microphone. He did. With his amazingly rich, clear, and expressive voice-Tony Bennett treated the Milwaukee audience to “Fly Me to the Moon” with sustained notes that I can still remember filling the renovated theater. Born on August 3, 1926, Mr. Bennett performed with the energy and voice typically associated with someone much, much younger. My sister, Mary, and I felt “over the Moon” fortunate to hear our dad's favorite singer in such a wonderful and memorable concert. Coincidentally, when Tony Bennett opened the first concert in 1984 in the newly renovated Riverside Theater, he then also sang “Fly Me to the Moon” without a microphone. Of course, this singer who recorded over seventy albums and won nineteen competitive Grammys, performed numerous concerts in Milwaukee through his especially long career that began in 1947 (the year my sister was born).

On July 21, 2023, when I heard of Tony Bennett's passing at age 96, I thought of his being the last of the singers of his generation, yet the one whose voice and career endured the longest to entertain the world with his unique style and musical flair. Another part of my parent's generation had sadly left us.

Although I was twelve when, in 1962, Tony Bennett released “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” on the “B side” of “Once upon a Time,” I have always loved Mr. Bennett's signature song and recall hearing my dad sing this ballad numerous times. Listening to Mr. Bennett sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” at the 2014 concert was thrilling. 2014 was a remarkable year for the pop/jazz singer because he then became the oldest living performer, at age 88, to have an album on the Billboard 200 chart.

On the Sunday after Mr. Bennett's passing, I greatly appreciated CBS network's re-broadcasting “One Last Time: An Evening with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga” so that one more time Tony Bennett could leave a piece of his musical heart with us.

“Tony Bennett's Moon over Milwaukee” was posted on Alice’s Wordwalk blog in July, 2023.

Bio: Holder of poetry pom-poms, author of THE CHRISTMAS CARRIAGE AND OTHER WRITINGS OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON, creator of the poster “A Guide Dog's Prayer to Saint Francis of Assisi,” retired (full-time) college instructor of English, weekly blogger since 2013, advocate for National Poetry Month, avid container gardener, believer in preserving family history, a Hoosier-at-heart who has resided in Wisconsin since 1991, thirty-four-year handler of four magnificent Leader Dogs-all of these shape the petals of the blossoming, poetic life of Alice Jane-Marie Massa. To read more of Alice's writings, visit her blog and author's web page:

A Love Poem, poetry
by Terri Winaught.

I held your smooth hand
As you lay cold and still:
My partner; my love!

Bio: Terri Winaught grew up in Philadelphia, PA where she attended the Overbrook School for the Blind from 1958 till her high school graduation in 1972. As a third-grader, Terri wrote her first poem entitled, “Love Is Like a Flower,” and has loved writing ever since.

In August, 1972, Terri moved to Pittsburgh, PA where she currently resides. In addition to writing, Terri's passions include: performing community service, reaching out to loved ones on holidays to extend well wishes, singing, and watching Catholic Mass on EWTN especially when she is unable to go to church.

Ashes, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta

The stone jar sits in the palm of my Hand.
A Mother's grace Sealed inside,
sifted and placed into a concave agate receptacle

This is what is left behind after the incineration.
The possibility of sensing, remembering
her suffering gives me pause

Early summer brightens the harbor basin
the grass soft underfoot
the chosen cherry tree is tall with fertility

This is a beautiful place
and it is where we tip the stone jar
fill my cupped hand
notice a bone sliver
nestled within the sifted ashes
quelling the impulse to separate and Stash it into a pocket
and Hold onto it forever
I kneel and lovingly release what is left of our beloved matriarch
from my palm
into the loamy ground.

Bio: Ann's poems, creative nonfiction, essays and fiction appear in anthologies, popular online magazines, periodicals, blogs and small press reviews. Her poems
have been featured in The Avocet, the Pangolin Review, Plum Tree Tavern, Magnets and Ladders, and Breath and Shadow. Ann publishes a variety of material
Spanning the literary genres of poetry, creative nonfiction and fiction.

Diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa in 1993, Ann accepts vision loss as part of her life but doesn't let it define her as a whole person.

The author resides in Pennsylvania with her husband, retired guide dog pet dog and cats, striving to develop a mutually-beneficial relationship with her
assistive technology.

Contact Ann by visiting her website: Subscribe to Ann's blog:

Once I Saw a Star, Villanelle poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

A brilliant star is shining down on me,
I’m thirteen years of age, up on a roof;
The sky at night is filled with mystery.

Unable from the ground to see your light,
Tonight with wondrous welcome I can see
This brilliant star that’s shining down on me.

Hello to Mr. Moon, I know you well;
They say you rule the tides, but who can tell?
The sky at night is filled with mystery.

What luck I came with Dad to do repairs;
Tonight I’ll make a wish since I can see
This brilliant star that’s shining down on me.

Smaller radiant points surround your glow,
Are you part of a constellation I should know?
The sky at night is filled with mystery.

Afraid to look away, I concentrate;
Preserve your silver warmth in memory;
Oh, brilliant star, keep shining down on me,
The sky at night is filled with mystery.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family in a 100-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. She enjoys college basketball, barbershop harmony, and adventure books. Visit her website:

In Spring There are Babies, poetry Honorable Mention
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

I held a downy chick in my five-year-old hand,
Feeling the fragile beauty
Of a newly hatched life.
I gently lifted a black poodle pup
From a pile of champagne-coated puppies.
Being nursed by my mother's fluffy white dog Babette.

I laughed when a tiny goat kid
Butted her head against her twin sister's
Within hours of their births.
A paint quarter-horse mare
Gently nosed her wobbly-legged foal
Helping her find breakfast.

On a morning in spring,
I sat on the edge of a hospital bed.
My heart filled with wonder and joy.
I heard her soft cries
Drawing closer to where I waited.
I knew my daughter's voice.

Bio: DeAnna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Ojibwa. She learned to read at three, at her great grandfather's knee. She says what she writes
is the result of a mind that is always busy. DeAnna writes poetry, essays and creative fiction. She considers herself a daughter of mother earth., her
sense of justice and concern for children, the elderly, animals and her world have forced her to be an activist, despite a natural shyness. She has raised
three children, been married since college and lived a rich fulfilling life despite becoming totally blind at the age of eight.

Apache Feet, poetry
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

The Texas sunset paints the western sky with red and orange.
Tiny girl's feet in patent leather shoes tap up the steps.
The screen door squeaks and those feet tread the linoleum floor.
The sound of Pedro's harmonica floats out from his room.

Water is pumped by a small windmill into a stock tank.
Grandpa lets the children play in it like a swimming pool.
A sink, toilet and washing machine use this water too.
Ducks are gathering out the side door demanding their corn.

Lace trimmed socks stuffed into Sunday shoes free Apache feet.
Little feet are now free to carry dinner to the ducks,
or scamper to fetch drinking water from the rain barrel.
They are busy the day long doing what needs to be done.

Chocolate Malt, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

On a hot Arizona summer afternoon,
the electric mixer whines-my mouth waters.
As Mother combines chocolate ice cream, milk, and malt powder,
I sit at the kitchen table, a child of ten.
Younger brother Andy, three, perches on the counter next to the action.

The mixer stops.
“I need to get more milk from the fridge. Don’t touch it,”
Mother tells Andy,
who loves to play with the mixer after we enjoy our treats.

Moments later, we each have a tall glass with a straw.
I sip the rich, sweet concoction,
thankful to be in our cool house,
not in a hot car,
having acquired a similar treat
from a Dairy Queen drive-through window.

“Chocolate Malt” was originally published in The Writer's Grapevine summer 2023.

A Pinch Of Ivy's Love, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

While bread dough rises to the top
of old enamel bowls in the warmth
of a spartan farmhouse kitchen,
Great-Aunt Ivy and I, hands in motion,
perched on a worn wooden bench, shell peas
picked early that morning for supper.
Taking to the familiar task with muscle memory,
her gnarled hands speed in synchronized movement
as my five-year-old fingers lag behind.
Her basin filled with a mountain of peas,
Ivy lavishes praise born of love
on the tiny pile scarcely covering my pan's bottom.

Decades later, in an apartment's galley kitchen,
the grown child now older than the Ivy
held in that long-ago memory
shakes frozen peas into a pot of soup
and cuts a slice from store-bought bread
but remembers to add a pinch of Ivy's love.

Bio: A poet and book reviewer, Sally Rosenthal, the author of Peonies In Winter: A Journey Through Loss, Grief And Healing, lives in Philadelphia.

Carousels Forever, nonfiction
by Trish Hubschman

I became intrigued with carousels A FEW MONTHS ago. My husband and I, who at that time were living in Northeast Pennsylvania, discovered a 100-year-old carousel about 25 minutes from our home. It was the Weona Park carousel in Pen Argyl, Pennsylvania. We had to see it, so we drove to it and paid the dollar (one hundred pennies) for a ticket to go for a ride. It was beautiful. We sat on an antique Victorian bench as we went around. There were the original 44 hand-carved animals on a brightly painted carousel. This centennial artifact was built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company in the very early Twentieth Century and made its debut in 1923 on that spot.

I knew very little about carousels, because I didn’t go on many amusement park rides. Suddenly, I felt an urge to know more. Was the Weona Park carousel the oldest one in existence? Where are these beautiful old carousels?

Before 2019, my husband and I lived on Long Island, New York. Pennsylvania was supposed to be our retirement locale. It didn't turn out that way, but that's a different story.

There had been at least two carousels on Long Island when I was a child. “I wonder what their story is and if they're still around,” I said to my husband. I was now on a quest to discover the whereabouts of one carousel that had been in an indoor farmers market. The other was at an indoor amusement park called Nunley's on Long Island's South Shore that Kevin enjoyed as a youth. “Tell me about Nunley's.” I said. I was just as much intrigued by the indoor amusement park as the carousel that went around inside it.

Kevin was looking at his cell phone. “Says here that William Nunley opened his first Long Island Indoor amusement park For kids in 1940. It was on Sunrise Highway in Baldwin.”

I didn't need a calculator to know that wasn't our oldest carousel. “Place must have been fun.” I'm sure I sounded crestfallen.

Kevin jumped in. “Hold on. I know what you're thinking. The carousel itself was much older than the amusement park it was in. Says here, it debuted in Brooklyn in 1912. It was there until 1939,when Bill Nunley brought it to Long Island and put it into his newly opened indoor amusement park.”

Now, that was better. “Was there another indoor park or something?” The way he phrased it, that's the way it sounded.

He nodded. “He opened a second one in Bethpage. It didn't last long. Sold to Jolly Rogers, then Adventureland and burned down two years later.”

My eyes were wide. I loved Jolly Rogers when I was a kid. I didn't know it had started out as a Nunley's. I wanted to know more about the first one. “Is Nunley's still on Sunrise Highway?” I couldn't say I remembered seeing anything like it, but again, I didn't frequent towns way over there.

He shook his head. “Went out of business in 1995. Billy Joel tried to buy the place and save the amusement park and carousel, but they turned him down. They sold the land to Pit Boys Auto Repair. That's what stands there now.” I was crestfallen. He went on. “The carousel went into storage and was pretty much forgotten. After 2000, the County realized that it had an important piece of history in storage. It was restored to its original 1912 beauty. The hand-carved animals on it were deteriorating almost beyond recognition.”

I could up the story at this point. I was excited. “It's now in a Children's museum in Garden City,” I said. My Mom took my sister's kids to that museum and saw the carousel, but hadn't known the history at the time. “And it still runs.” I was beaming. “Now, what about my farmers market carousel.”

When I was a child, that same town that had Jolly Rogers had an indoor farmers market. It was a hot spot for families to go to on Friday nights. It was probably more like an indoor flea market. It had fruit and vegetable vendors, but also had stuff like a record section and an eye glass guy. My favorite part of the market was a big ride-on carousel with horses that went around and round all the time. I'd stand on the other side of the low metal fence and watch it. I was mesmerized by a beautiful yellow horse that went up and down, up and down. I can't say I remember going on the ride, but I watched it.

My cousin, Tom a regular at the farmers market with his parents, told me it burned down to the ground in 1987. “What happened to my carousel?” I asked Kevin.

He was checking his phone. I was fearing the obvious. He smiled. “This is both good and ironic. The carousel was moved out of the farmers market the year before the fire, 1986.”

That was interesting. “So, it didn't perish like the Jolly Rogers rides?”

“It was relocated further out East to Calverton, and moved again even further East in 1997 to Greenport. It's inside a building and protected, but people can still pay to ride on it.”

I was excited. What I was calling “my carousel” was the Grumman's carousel. Mom had seen that one too. That was it. It had to be.

This beautiful carousel was created in 1920 by a company in Buffalo, New York. They made only three carousels, two still existed. The other one was in Staten Island. My carousel WAS given as a gift to Grumman's, a big airplane manufacturEr on Long Island. Grumman's had been out of business for years on the Island, but the compound where it stood in Bethpage was still there.

“Is the carousel in Greenport my carousel?”

Greenport was the at the East end of Long Island. When I mentioned our discoveries to Mom, she told me she did remember seeing a plaque on the carousel in GreenpOrt that said “Grumman's 1920.” I just found the farmers market carousel. I was still beaming.

I joined the National Carousel facebook group and see that there are so many other people whoa re intrigued by these beautiful amusement park rides, not childrens' merry-go-rounds, but beautiful hand-carved, hand-painted carousels. There are some that still remain in existence that date back to the late 1800s.

My husband and I have moved to South Carolina. I just learned that an amusement park in the area is becoming a Six Flags theme park. Maybe it'll have a historic carousel. I'll definitely check it out. I'll definitely be looking for it.

Bio: Trish Hubschman is the author of the Tracy Gayle mystery series: Tidalwave, Stiff Competition, Ratings Game, Uneasy Tides, and Gayle's Tales. Trish is a graduate of Long Island University's Southampton Campus and has a Bachelor's degree in English-writing. She is deaf-blind and lives in South Carolina with her husband, Kevin, and their dog Henry.
Visit Trish on her Author Website here:

Riding Behind the Racers, memoir nonfiction Second Place
by Shawn Jacobson

“Let's get in the cart,” the musher for our 4-membergroup says, and we find our seats behind the dogs. Once we are seated, the musher starts the dogs and we are on our way down the tightly packed gravel road.

The trip we are about to take is an anticipated highlight of our great Alaska Journey. We, especially my wife, are dog people and the chance to ride a cart behind genuine sled dogs is something we were looking forward to the whole way up to Alaska from our home in Maryland. Now, after almost two months of travel, our cruise ship reached Juneau. The sled ride is at hand.

Almost immediately after the cruise ship makes port in Juneau, we board a bus and head south, along the Gastineau Channel till we make a left turn into Ship Creek Valley and ascend into the mountains that surround Alaska's capitol. After passing a stop for a gold mine tour, we reach the sled dog summer camp where our ride takes place. We exit the bus into cool mountain air.

The cool July weather is the reason for the sled dog summer camp. Other areas in Alaska may be brutally cold in the winter, but the Alaskan interior can experience summer heat that rivals the torrid weather of the Midwest. The coast of Southeastern Alaska, by contrast stays cool year round.

Our first stop is at the main building of the camp. Here, our mushers give us a history of sled dog racing and tell us about what we should expect. They also tell us about the three types of dogs in a sled team. The lead dog is the most experienced of the dogs. The lead dog follows the instructions of the mushers and translates them into actions, such as turning or stopping the sled. The wheel dogs are the most agile of the dogs and are placed closest to the sled. They are responsible for turning the sled when necessary and may have to jump over the line to which the dogs are leashed. The team dogs run between the lead and wheel dogs. After we sign the obligatory liability forms, we are separated into groups and guided to our carts.

As I mull the information we've received, the cart springs to motion behind our team of fourteen dogs. Suddenly, we are speeding down the gravel road at nine miles per hour. The ride is smooth, something that surprises us given the road and the mode of transit.

The road has a couple of places where dogs can turn right or go straight; I suspect that this is where they can practice following commands. Here, the musher directs us on the right fork of the road and the dogs spring in that direction. Then it's back to the main road. We continue through the forest on this bright sunny day.

On the return leg of our ride, the mushers stop the carts at a pool of glacial water. This water is piped onto the road to cool off the dogs. Our racing dogs are most comfortable in sub-freezing cold. Thus, even though we find the day to be cool, for the dogs it is still at the hot end of what they like.

The dogs appreciate the refreshing break. As they take a drink and cool down, some of them get impatient to run. We were told that it is easier to get racing dogs to start running than it is to tell them to stop. One of the lead dogs of the team behind us starts jumping and barking to raise the dead. His feet kick mud from the road onto the back of our musher who stands on the back of the cart.

Then, with the cooling stop complete, we raced back to the camp. Three of the dogs on our team are Iditarod winners, so we know that we are riding behind serious racing dogs. These seasoned racing dogs have no trouble getting us back to camp. For them, the mile and a half course is just a chance to warm up and stay in shape.

With the ride complete, we get the next part of our tour, a chance to pet the dogs on our team. The dogs in question are not the big Siberian huskies that we associate with dog sleds. Traditional sled dogs are considered freight hauling dogs since they have the strength to pull heavy sleds. The dogs used for racing are Alaskan huskies. The Alaskan huskie is something of a mutt. They were bred from whatever dogs could be found in Alaska. We were surprised to learn that some Alaskan huskies are part chihuahua. A lot are, at least partly, hounds with lungs that suit them for running. These dogs are smaller, about fifty pounds is optimal and are bred for speed and the desire to run rather than for brute strength. Thus, hounds make for good stock to use to breed the speed demons that we have been riding behind.

After an enjoyable fifteen minutes of petting dogs, we move into the barn where the puppies live. Two puppies, about six weeks old, are available for us to hold. We stroke the little dogs and let them snuggle against our bodies as our guides tell us about how these puppies will grow into full-fledged sled pullers. And then we move on to a display of equipment used to race. We see what an authentic racing sled looks like and get to see racing apparel. This includes a pair of wolf-skin mitts used by people who race these dogs in the cold of winter.

After seeing the artifacts of the dog racers life, we await the bus that will return us to the cruise ship and the rest of our journey. Before leaving, we take one last look at the place where the dogs are kept. Each has its own doghouse, color coded to signify the team they belong to, and each dog is chained to its one little spot of earth to protect it from the other dogs. These are temporary residents of the summer camp, so they have not had time to dig the extensive dog holes we saw at the other sled dog camp we visited.

As the bus returns for us, we bid a fond farewell to the camp; the experience lived up to our expectations. This was the best experience we had up until this point, and it would be better than anything we would do in the month remaining on our journey.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind and achieved partial eyesight by dint of several eye operations. He is currently retired after working for the Federal Government as a statistician for 37 years. He currently lives in Olney, MD with his family and an ever-changing pack of dogs.

Part III. Not What I Expected

Space Tapestry, fiction First Place
by Shawn Jacobson

“You don't want that,” my wife said pointing at the rug kit, “it's childish.”

“It looks cool,” I said looking at the picture, a UFO against the backdrop of outer space. Through open panels in the ship, you could see two aliens fiddling with some sort of machine with a ray shooting out toward the observer. “It's unique,” I continued, “something to remember the trip. Very in keeping with this little New Mexico town.”

She persisted in her objections to the point that I had to give it up. The pleasure of working on the rug just wasn't worth the grief I'd get about buying this kit. I couldn't figure out her displeasure though I would later wonder if she'd had some foreknowledge of where working on this rug would take me, a place stranger than precognition.

“Anything else?” the lady at the checkout counter asked. She looked like she might have been a flower child once, before the gray got to her hair and the lines took over her face. “You're sure you don't want the rug kit?” she continued looking at me. “You sure looked interested in it.”

“No,” my wife said as she picked up the gifts we bought for the kids and hustled me out the door.

Oh well, I thought as we traveled east through the rocky landscape. I would have liked the rug kit, but she'd buy me one she liked; life was easier that way. In time, the hum of the road stilled my remaining resentment; vacations were no time to be in a bad mood. The rest of the trip continued with only scheduled adventures. By the time we got home, the little store in New Mexico and its spacy rug receded into my memory's background.

Until the day I stumbled over a package on our doorstep.

You should watch where you're going, I thought to myself as I gracelessly entered the house.

“Let's see what that is,” the Mrs. Said as she grabbed the knife she used for opening packages. After digging in the box, she said, “Oh, it's that rug.”

In the box was a note thanking us for our purchases and explaining that the rug kit was a gift to us since I'd shown interest in the item.

“They probably couldn't sell it,” my wife said, “so they're giving it away. They probably just want it off their hands.”

“Could be,” I agreed, though I felt there might be another reason. I remembered the lady talking to customers about some of the strange UFO encounters that the area was famous for. Maybe she recognized me as a fellow space fanatic and wanted to pass this item to me as recognition that I was one of that kindred.

I took the kit downstairs and looked at the contents. The first problem was that the chart didn't seem to be in English. Instead of the typical color names, there were squiggles. It could be Chinese, I thought in frustration.

Then, I realized that by looking at the picture, I could figure out which color went with its corresponding symbol. The empty boxes represented the black that made up the background, the ovals represented the pearly gray of the spaceship and so forth.

The colors were strange. The black, which I thought of as space black didn't match any black yarns in my other kits. The gray shown with some sort of inner light as did the pink and blue threads which made up the spacecraft's interior. And then there was the color I thought of as ray, the color shot out of the alien machine. It was some intense color out past blue that was almost painful to gaze upon.

The threads also felt different. The pale, almost pastel yellow that represented the alien's skin felt cool and smooth, the way the skin of a snake feels. The threads for the alien's hair, or whatever, felt a bit like bird feathers, and the green and orange colors of their clothing felt like some sort of glossy fabric. The wonder of working with these threads made me obsess over the project as I'd never done before.

“Did you hear what I said?” my wife asked.


“Planet Earth calling husband,” she repeated with that tone of voice that warned that mad was just around the corner.

“OK,” I said. I'm listening.

“You need to do the laundry tonight,” she said. The hamper is full. “And you need to get all the trash cans when you take out the garbage, not just the ones on this floor.”

“Yes,” I said feeling unpleasantly humbled.

“You've really been missing stuff since you started on that silly space rug,” she continued. And then, “I really wish you wouldn't work on that thing.”

I didn't argue. I got a load of wash together, and yes, the hampers were overflowing. I offered to take out the trash but the Mrs. Was not done in the kitchen. So, I went to work on the rug promising to check on the laundry while I was down there.

I was putting in the threads for the outside of the spaceship, wiry metallic threads that felt surprisingly flexible. I was also putting in some of the interior threads.

“How's it coming?” my son asked.

“Making progress,” I said. I wanted to do the rug for him, given that he was into space. It was a passion we shared that the Mrs. never understood.

“Can you help me with my homework?” he asked. “Mom says you're the math expert in the family.”

“Sure,” I said, “let's see what it is.” We worked on his math for two hours; by the time we were finished, I had no time or energy for my hooking project.

Time passed. I worked through my chores stealing time for the rug when I could. Then came a night when I was almost finished. All I had left were some space black threads and a few of the hot white threads for stars. I was working along when my wife popped her head in the door.

“Do you know what time it is?” she asked. “It's almost midnight; you have to work tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” I said. “I'm almost done.”

“Good,” she said. Usually this meant good I was making progress. But this time I felt it meant good, this foolishness will soon be over. I finished at long last and crawled into bed.

The next day, I drug myself back out of bed feeling like I was impersonating a human being without a license.

“Would you please take out the recycle before leaving?” the Mrs. asked with exasperation.

“Yes,” I said. I hoped this would settle things, but no, no such luck.

“It's getting so I have to do everything myself,” she said. “You don't do the laundry, you don't do trash, you don't do anything I need you to do unless I yell at you to do it,” she continued as her voice took off like a rocket. “I'm tired of doing everything myself!”

With that send off, I slogged out the door. Ahead lay an uninspiring day of work, meetings I barely hung on through, work assignments I somehow got completed.

By quitting time, I was drained. I pulled myself through the rest of the day as if I were at the end of some grueling run for which I hadn't trained.

“I don't want to hang that thing in the house,” my wife said as I presented the finished product. “You worked on it, so you can do the backing on it or whatever you want to do with it,” she continues as she tossed the rug back at me.

I carried the rug downstairs and looked at the instructions for sewing the edges together; they may as well have been written in Martian for all I could understand them. I gave up and taped the rug, done but not really finished either, to the back of my door. Then, I sat and looked at the resulting tapestry.

Though the edging was shabby, the rug itself out shown my other creations. The landscape on its left and the picture of a panda on its right seemed mundane when compared to this work of otherworldly beauty. And I realized why I'd been obsessed with this creation. I'd enjoyed doing rugs for my wife and for her family, cardinals, bunnies and all the rest.

But this was something I'd done for me, about something for which I had a driving passion. This was my skill made to serve what I wanted to do art about, the hope and the wonder of the universe beyond my life.

And as I stared into the depths, a void that could swallow lightyears in its vastness, and looked at the ship and the aliens about their work, I felt myself falling forward drawn into that vastness, towards that ship, to those aliens and their strange machine. And as I fell forward, the life I'd known fell
away into the past.


I looked out the window of the spaceship at a gray world. I was sure its surface would be ice and its air poison, an uninviting place. I'd once found such scenes exciting. Vista after glorious vista passed before my eyes on this journey. Now the grand array of worlds and stars seemed to run together into an uninspiring sameness. I had not been to this world, yet I'd seen it all before.

“Is there something wrong?” a voice, the female alien, asked.

“not really,” I said unable to put my feelings into words.

The being that stood before me, and the other, I presume he was her husband, welcomed me when I'd arrived. They showed me how to get along on the ship and they directed it to some truly beautiful places. They'd been kind, even loving, during our travels. We were so close that we hadn’t needed names. I'd speak and one of them would answer. And now I realized that this was the first time I'd seen one without the other.

“Where is your companion?” I asked.

“The ship reabsorbed him,” she replied. “The ship had wished you would relate to both of us in a physical way. But you've only been interested in me, so he has been reabsorbed.”

“So, the ship took his life because I wasn't affectionate with him?” I asked, rather shocked by what I was hearing.

“He was always part of the ship, as am I,” she replied. “As I said, the ship hoped you would love each of us with equal affection.”

In space as on Earth, I was disappointing folk who wanted to remake me to fit their grand design, I thought.

“It's not that I'm disappointed,” she replied as if she'd read my mind, “it's just that the folk who called me into being were male and female. I made these bodies in homage to them so that you could love all of them. When we sent out the portal to bring you here, we sought someone who could appreciate the beauty of our creators; I hoped you would find us beautiful. I hoped you would appreciate the beauty of the universe through which we travel. Is this why you're sad?” she continued “because you do not see the beauty in us, in the places we've visited.

“It's just that…,” I trailed off. I didn't know how to tell this ship in the form of a woman that I'd thought space would make me feel free, but now I felt as confined as ever before. I didn't know how to tell her that I'd believed that space would fix my problems, but it hadn't. All that seemed too petty, too small to confess to something that sailed the stars.

Fortunately, she spoke, breaking through my thoughts. “With the biomass from my other created body,” the ship said, “I can make you a suit that will allow you to explore the world below you. It doesn't look like much from up here, but its surface has some scenes of unique beauty. Besides,” she continued, “it will get you off the ship for a while.”

“Thanks anyway,” I said. The place still looked uninviting. The universe was full of beauty that I was insufficient to appreciate.

“Then what,” the ship asked, “planetary exploration and the viewing of cosmic wonders is what space travel is for. If that no longer interests you, you should return home.”

I thought about home, really thought about it. I remembered a trip my wife and I'd taken to the mountains, a trip during the early good years when we loved each other without feeling the need to remake each other in our own images. Home had not always been happy, or easy, or comfortable. Yet home had its beauties and its joys; and, home was a place that you didn't have to be lonely, not if you put some effort into getting out into the world. Suddenly home seemed not so bad.

“I think that's what I want,” I said. “I want to return to Earth. You've been a loving companion, but I don't think that this life is for me.”

“I thought so,” the ship said. “We can start in that direction if you wish. However, on the way there is a system with three suns that share their material as they dance through their orbits. The streams of matter that they share are never the same twice; they are worth seeing.

“Then, there is an alien race along the way that has mastered the art of love. You can use that on Earth as well as in space. They also create inspiring tapestries. Should we make a couple of stops along the way?” she asked.

I heard pleading in her voice, and I realized that traveling the universe alone with only vessels holding your echoes must be a lonely way to live. Of course, she had wanted companionship; and, in space as on Earth, I'd been a disappointment.

I pondered, just how homesick was I? Did I want to throw away this opportunity to travel just yet? And what was left of home anyway? For all I knew, centuries might have passed back on Earth while we'd wandered. Everyone I knew may have been long dead and forgotten. This might be my last chance to learn to love rightly with someone I knew. The answer came to me with no surprise at all.

“I think a couple of stops wouldn't hurt,” I said looking forward to the travels still ahead.

Data Overflow, fiction Honorable Mention
by Nicole Massey

She was a neighbor, judging by her path across my lawn, though I didn’t recognize her. I was on the way to my ride when she came up to me. I heard her there but of course didn’t see her. It took her a couple of minutes to realize I couldn’t see, though the white cane in my hand was a clear indicator.

She said, “Hi.”


“You live here.” It was a question, though it didn’t sound like one with the way she said it.


“Did you hear about Susan?”

“I had—I got an email about it. Sounds like it was a nasty bit of business.”

“Yeah. You’re blind.” Again with the question that didn’t sound like one.

“Yes, I am.”

“Can you read documents somehow?”

“Yes. That’s how I heard about Susan Stemphill’s tragic accident.”

“Here.” She pressed a thumb drive into my hand. “We need to get this out into public knowledge.” Before I could say anything else she ran off, the sound of her feet whispering through the fallen leaves. I pocketed the drive, thinking about the odd encounter until Paratransit showed up to get me to a doctor’s appointment.

Back at the house I plugged the thumb drive into my test bed computer; it had stronger virus protection and anti-malware programs on it, and it was isolated from the rest of the house network. The drive was clean of any malicious stuff, so I opened the single document on it. The story was about a woman who did voiceover work. She was hired for a lot of money to read some text that made no sense to her. The parts she read in English were backwards, and there was some sort of other language mixed in. She was required by the contract to work in a recording studio instead of her home studio, and she had a producer. The producer was exacting about pronunciation and inflection, telling her where to place accents on the odd words. It was long, hard, and tiring work.

This is where I started having problems with my screen reader. It can develop issues if it’s been running for a while – it’s sort of like it has a buffer and telling it to stop takes a bit of the text to stop it. It’s like the text in the buffer has to run its course before it can respond to my keyboard commands. This started happening.

The story got stranger, the woman starting to realize the stuff she was recording wasn’t for human ears. She didn’t say anything about it to anyone, but little things started cropping up. Motion sensitive outdoor lights turned on with no provocation. The feral cats in the neighborhood disappeared, their food bowls untouched. And the power grid started having brownouts at odd times, as in times outside of high electricity usage periods. Some of the electronics in her home either stopped working or started working again after being nonfunctional for a long time. Most scary of all, her continued exposure to what she was reading and recording started to make sense, and it was creepy.

My screen reader was showing more problems with that buffer issue, and it was taking longer to get it to stop so I could back up and read the story. I shut it down and restarted it, but that didn’t do much to help the problem, so I rebooted the computer. That helped for a little while, but the issue came back.

In the story, the woman’s neighbor disappeared. There was no sign of a struggle, and everything seemed like it should be, but she was gone. All of this was starting to creep into her thoughts all the time. What she was reading sounded like it was about some sort of deal the government was making with alien intruders, and it was clear they didn’t share societal values with the residents of Earth.

I was having a harder and harder time listening to the book, which was a long one. I listen at a fast clip, but the chunks of text were overwhelming, so I spent a lot of time backtracking to understand what the text of the book said. And I was becoming more and more aware that my neighbor, Susan, wasn’t gone because of what the email said, but instead something much more unusual and strange. I hit a part of the book where the main character lost a neighbor in the same way; I stopped the machine and went to bed, where I had unsettled dreams.

The next morning, after breakfast, I went back to the book. I started the auto-reading again, and the buffer problem was back. It became more and more difficult to get it to stop so I could go back. And for some reason it was going faster. It was a frustrating morning, and more than once I thought about how I had other things I could be doing besides listening to this story. That said, my creepy feeling, along with the neighbor woman’s odd behavior when she gave me the thumb drive, kept me listening.

Things reached a boiling point after lunch. The screen reader sped up so the words were a blur (my friends claim that to them it’s always a blur because I listen faster than those untrained by screen reader use) and it was getting a lot harder to stop it. It got to where it was going so fast I could only hear a slight change of pitch in all the fast words going by. When I tried to stop it, the machine wouldn’t respond. I got frustrated and kept trying, but nothing I did worked. I reached for the machine’s power button. Over the blur of words four words, in slow speed, came out, “You. Can’t. Stop. It.”

Such multi-layering of speech is impossible for screen readers to do. The four words were louder than the rest. It would take a lot of precision control and expert timing to make it work like that. My heart raced.

I pulled the power plug from the back of the machine. It kept on running and reading. I yanked the thumb drive out of the USB port. That didn’t stop it at all. I disconnected the speakers; the sound didn’t stop. I put my hands over my ears, the thumb drive in my right palm, and staggered to the bathroom. I dropped the drive in the toilet and flushed. The computer faded out, stopping.

I don’t know what was going on, and I still don’t now. The computer is sitting in a large Styrofoam ice chest lined with kitchen foil. I want to know the rest of that story, but not if it’s going to take over my computer like it did. And I’m not going to give the computer away or pitch it in the trash because someone might turn it on again.

The worst part of it? About ten minutes after I closed the ice chest and taped the lid on, someone knocked on my door. Three knocks, a pause, and three knocks again. The knocking has been going on for 35 hours so far. I can’t look out of the peep hole, of course, but I’m not opening that door. My email stopped working and I can’t get onto the internet; my phone can’t find a cell tower. I’m isolated and alone. Except for that damned knocking…

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter, a lifelong Dallasite, and sixth generation Texan. Her degree in music was earned from the University of Texas system. She lost her sight in 2003; if you find it, she’d like to have it back. Nicole doesn’t drink coffee or wear t-shirts and sweats. This may make her an atypical writer and musician.

She can be reached at: She’s not on Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter, but her website: has occasional updates and writing on it. The real finds there are the subscription buttons for her newsletter and mailing list.

We don't need no stinkin' diplomats, flash fiction
by Brad Corallo

March 2024: from One World News, BBC World News and CNN: Breaking News:
“As strange aerial phenomena appear over Washington DC, Moscow and Beijing, Vladimir Putin orders several tactical nuclear weapons strikes in Ukraine. As worldwide condemnation of the act grows, NATO begins to marshal all its forces.”

April 2024: As strategic rolling power outages spread over the world, messages begin to appear on unaffected computers around the globe. They speak of an alien intervention in humanity's barbaric and self-destructive military activities.

“We are here to help! Our own species went through a similar period in our history and only survived by recognizing the beauty in our diversity and the development of empathy and compassion toward each other. It is time for such wisdom to be embraced by the human species or you will have a very short future. Please let us help you!”

As world leaders consult, demonstrations in many countries in support of the alien intervention become larger and larger. Behind closed doors in the capitals of the three superpowers, strategies and responses are repeatedly discussed in ever increasing volume.

A few world leaders eagerly promote the position of accepting help from the aliens to end wars and work cooperatively together. Though the majority of rulers believe that the intruders have no right to interfere in a solely Earth matter. Renown scientists point out that since we know that the aliens have at least developed interstellar travel, they could impose any conditions they choose on humanity. Consequently, we counsel that we immediately establish a means of communication with the aliens and begin the long overdue business of true civilization.

Breaking story from: One World News, BBC World News and CNN:
“North Korea launches three ballistic missiles with multiple nuclear warheads toward the possible glimpsed positions of the aliens above the three major capital cities. Within less than five seconds of launching, the missiles ceased to exist. Scientists decry the unnecessary and foolish act.”

Once again, on computers around the globe, messages begin to appear: “Your bellicose and pathetic show of force against our presence, both saddens us and causes us to wonder if we are incorrect as to your ability to become a united, harmonious, advanced species. Again, we strongly urge all of you to immediately cease all hostilities and commence working with us toward a better future for humanity.”

Quietly, using multiple layer encryption, the leaders of the three superpowers devise a unified strategy to counter the alien's interference. All go to nuclear yellow alert and announce in a worldwide press conference: “To unknown aliens, if you do not cease medaling in our business, we will begin mutually assured destruction (MAD). We would rather sacrifice our entire species than submit to your, doubtlessly self-serving paternalistic conditions.”

Aboard the three alien vessels, the telepathic beeings communicate the following to one another:

“Of course, they may be bluffing.”

“Even if they're not, we can eliminate all of their missiles, warheads, planes and subaqueous launch vehicles.”

“Should we call their bluff and let them try to destroy each other?”

“If they are that crazy, we may not be doing a wonderful thing to allow them to continue as a species.”

“Well, what do you suggest?”

“We could allow them to destroy themselves. Of course, some few of them would survive.”

“Once things have settled down there, we could appear to the remaining humans as benevolent Gods who have come to help them thrive.”

“An interesting approach! Do all support this plan?”

Finally, they all sadly concurred that such a plan would both enable a portion of humanity to survive, after which they could offer their help from on high with a far greater likelihood of success.

Before going silent: One World News, BBC World News and CNN: Breaking News report:
“swarms of nuclear warhead bearing missiles are beginning to blanket the entire planet. Brilliant flashes and apocalyptic destruction follow.”

As the three alien vessels depart the neighborhood of Earth, they share the following thoughts:

“Well, I don't know what else we could have done.”

“Yes well, either we or some of our brethren will return in a thousand or so of their years and try to help pick up the pieces.”

“However, it is clear that we all need something to take the taste of that absurd species out of our nutritional entry chambers. Let us follow their primitive ceremony of toasting.”

“Excellent idea: To humanity, they did at least one thing right, they invented old single malt Scotch. Cheers!”

Bio: Brad Corallo, a writer in multiple genres, is a Long Island native. His work has been published in 19 previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in The William B. Joslin Outstanding Program Awards Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions”, The Red Wolf Coalition, L.I. Able News and several additions of The Avocet. He has been a life-long student of fine wine, food, music, books, space exploration, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. Brad is now happily retired after thirty eight years of employment in the human service field. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has experienced impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime

Wolf, Grandma and the Conservation Office, fiction
by Louise Osborn

The wolf had learned to walk upright. Also, he was wearing a lumberjack's shirt and cutoff jeans. He was walking along a path in the woods that in other stories was walked on by a little girl in a red cloak and hood. The child would have been carrying a basket full of muffins, soup and chocolates for her sick grandmother. But today it was the wolf. He was feeling sad, lonely or maybe just hungry, but it was a pleasant day; there was a light breeze—not hot— not too cold. He liked the feel of it, especially on his nose. Dragonflies, butterflies and other kinds of flies bobbed in the air. The wolf's teeth glimmered in the daylight. After awhile, his eyes became wider and blacker, and his ears pricked forward. His skin started to tingle, and his muscles came more to life. He swallowed and kept walking…

Eventually, he saw a small house with a black-purple roof and pale wooden sides, Grandma's house. Wolf was thinking of roasted Grandma. If only there were an oven big enough somewhere that he could use. Or a barbecue pit maybe. He could make Roasted Grandma, tied up with string to keep it from going all to pieces.

The wolf didn't have a complex palate. On the other hand, he found out all he needed to know about food in just one dish: meat. The refinement of cooking was something he had acquired from human beings, like his upright stance and his wardrobe. But a wolf he was and a wolf he would remain. When he got to Grandma's door, he demonstrated one more thing he had acquired: politeness. He knocked with his big, hard Wolfie knuckles. Then he howled. Was he calling? Was it his loneliness? Did he think he was talking to Grandma?

Grandma wasn't feeling at all sick that day, and she was as sharp as a tack-although she was as big as a house. Grandma, with her white hair, a white bun on top of her head, and an enormous print dress, sat bolt upright from where she had been lolling, on the couch, inspecting the ceiling. She had heard the knock and the howl. What was this innovation at the door? Grandma went to a window in the front room to see. She could partly see somebody standing at the door, but she saw a big tail coming out the back of the jeans. Then she saw shaggy fur pressed up by the shirt collar. Then she saw the back of the head and the ears, and there was no question. A foreleg fell to his side, and she saw the big knuckles and nails, and she knew she could be in for it. Except that there was no way she was opening that door. Though it was not locked-yet. Grandma slipped along the floor in her stocking feet to the door, which had no window in it. As silently as she could, she slid the deadbolt into place and barred the door. Then she tip-toed to the back of the house and barred the back door as well. The wolf was still mooning away, wanting food and company. Grandma phoned the conservation Officed to come and conserve her.

the Conservation Officers showed up with a large anesthetic gun and laid the wolf out flat on the doorstep. He began to snore, and they took him far, far away.

The Conservation office had tried to teach human beings that they were training these animals to expect hospitality from people. If this continued, the animals would wind up getting shot for it. They must stop feeding wild animals; stop leaving scraps out; and stop getting eaten by them.

In this case, the wolf was relocated deep in the forest. He didn't know where he was but he coped, which meant he was better off than some.

Bio: Louise Osborn lives in Nanaimo, Canada where she amuses herself with books, design projects and knitting. She exists in a continual power-struggle with her cat Generalissimo. Louise has a neurological problem that limits her visual capacity significantly.

Homecoming, fiction Second Place
by Gavin Ross

It's a lonely house I keep, full of ghosts and memories, now they are all gone. The echoes of the children's laughter rings through the dusty air, bouncing off the station walls, though there haven't been children here for so long. It's been years; years and years and years since they left or were taken away, leaving me here alone.

They sent his bones home in a box, along with a flag and one more medal for me to put in a drawer along with the others. The bones I crated up and sent into the sun. He always loved watching the sun rise over the station rings as a child. Never tired of it, even though it happened seventeen times, each and every day. His squadron commander, the famous lady pilot they call the Witch Mother, she sent a nice letter too, saying that he died valiantly and saved thousands of lives that day. I'm not sure I believe her, but it was nice of her to say, anyway.

His fathers would have been proud of him, if they were still alive. When we lost Tyson in the first war, that was a blow. We were a strange family, Tyson and Salvador as the couple, and me thrown into the mix as their incubator, as I'd call myself at parties to everyone's amusement. They were my best friends, and so much fun in those crazy early days; Ty with his stern Space Force uniform and his boyish grin, and Sal the artist, wild and creative in ways too numerous to count. Poet, author, sculptor- such vision and the hands of a master.

We combined the strange bureaucratic math of our reproductive credits to have Wallis and his older sister Tamen. And then Ty brought home little Nella back from his first campaign, after the destruction of the Balian home world and we all fell in love with her blue skin and white eyes and her tiny seven fingered hands. People wondered in loud whispers if we only done it for the alien adoption allotment but they didn't know; we'd have done anything for that girl, all of us, and she was ours as much as if we'd birthed her ourselves. She was a strange little thing though. Not surprising given what she has been through, really. But as the years wore on she began to smile, and soon after that her tinkling high pitched laugh would ring with delight and make us all smile.

So we were a family of six, almost an unheard of thing. Made getting quarters on stations hard, sometimes sleeping three to a bed and me on a mat in the closet. But we got by. There was lots of laughter and love, so much love.

When I got my first flag, when they sent home Ty's body and we took it down to the planet and buried it with full military honors under the perpetual smoky grey sky, Wallis was only nine. He promised me vengeance, not even knowing what that meant. I only wanted peace I told him, but he never gave it up, that anger. He was different after that. We all were.

Sal cracked. He was never particularly stable to start with but losing the love of his life was too much. He simply couldn't cope. First he used alcohol and after that whatever else he could find. It hurt to see him, his hands shaking, eyes hollowed out and on the path of self-destruction. A few months later he was gone. I heard he was on the Centauri colony, probably drunk in a hole. I thought to seek him out, to try to bring him home. But he was too far gone and too far away by then. Years later, just after Tamen left school and joined up we received word Sal had been killed by a mag-lev train, sleeping on the tracks.

And I had the three young ones to raise, alone on a widows pension. It wasn't easy but I'd raised them right, or at least as right as I could. Tamen was the first to leave, straight out of school and into the Marine Corps. I'd been so scared and then so grateful when she was assigned non-combat duties in the payroll and supply chain directive. So it came as a surprise when the ship she was travelling on was attacked and the passengers and crew slaughtered. So they shipped home my second box of bones- my first born child. This made it so much worse for Walli, first he lost his fathers and now his sister. I begged him, even made him take his officers training instead of enlisting at seventeen, anything to give me more time to convince him to stay. But I couldn't, and too soon for the rest of us but not near fast enough for him, he was into the Space Force like his Poppa, and sent away to the front lines.

We never should have gone out there. Never sent them out there to die.

Nella, she coms sometimes, never saying much and always with some excuse of why she has to cut it short. She hasn't been home in years. Her and her human, of all things, wife Farrah are out in the far reaches, assisting in the reclamation of her home planet, now that the Arioliomax have been scourged from it. I think it's too much for her here, too many memories of everything we have lost. She wants me to go to stay with her but being that far out makes me too anxious. So I shuffle around here, growing old for no other reason then I haven't had the good sense to die yet.

“Maybe next year,” I tell her, if I can afford the passage. But it's not the cost that's keeping me here- it's the ghosts. That and the fact that everyone I've sent out there has returned in a box, and I'm only waiting for Nella and her lovely girl Farrah to be next. Them being different species and all means there's no chance of naturally born grandchildren and they don't seem inclined to adopt so it seems like the family line ends here. So maybe I will go one day, if only I'm brave enough.

People have asked why I don't display those flags, like some families do, as a way of honoring and remembering their dead. I did with the first one, and even for awhile with Tamen's but it got so every time I walked past was like them dying all over again. Nella, she wouldn't even look, crying for days and running through the common room, eyes to the floor rather than look at them hanging in the display case on the wall next to the family pictures. Now they sit in the box in a storage closet, along with Walli's. I never even took his out of the plastic wrapping. But I don't throw them away, or burn then or space them. They just sit there, like the silence, dragging me toward death.

Ty's was a noble sacrifice, Tamen was bad luck but Wallis? It was the gods of the universe, proving once again that our dreams and hopes and fears mean nothing. Nella answered the door that day, a teenager in our years, though still young for a Bailian. I remember she'd been going out that night to some dance at the rec hall with some friends and we'd been arguing about when she needed to come home and if her skirt was just a little too short for someone her age. “I'm on a space station, mom. Where am I going to go if I'm out after 11:00?” she'd said. Little did she know what can happen to a sixteen-year-old girl on a station this size. We kept her safe, me and her two older siblings. Maybe too safe, and after Tamen died she'd taken on a real wild streak, Teenage stuff- drinking, curfew violations, vandalism, fights at school. But Wallis- she'd listen to Wallis. When she was raging at me he'd take her aside, rest his forehead against hers and look in her eyes until she'd start crying, and then laugh through the tears too. And we'd be okay for awhile. She had a hard time of it when he'd gone off for advanced training- six months away on Jupiter Prime. But they'd written long letters, and endless text streams and talked over the coms when they could and things were looking up. She was so proud of her big brother, Starfighter pilot in the UP Space Force, off to fight the Slugs for us, going to liberate her home planet all by himself, from the way she made it sound. She never talked about Tay. Not that they weren't close, they were. She had a box where she kept her old belongings- a ratty stuffed unicorn, some jewellery, clothes and diaries and her tools and some old school things. The jewellery she never wore, but she slept with that unicorn every night, even when she was too old for such toys. She said it still smelt like her, though it couldn't have, not after all those years. But maybe- perhaps her alien nose could pick up scents ours could not. I doubt it though.

When Walli finally shipped out, she was there, taking dozens of pictures of him in his uniform and waving out the window till his transport faded into a tiny speck of light amidst the cosmos. So proud he was assigned to the Loreto squardron, where the famed Witch Mother flew, legend that she was. Not Nella's typical kind of hero, the Mother. She tended to be more into pop stars and actresses and even early Earthen explorers, Franklin and Shacklebolt and a dozen others I totally forgot about from my own history lessons. But if her big brother was going to be fighting there, she'd learn all she could about this Witch Mother all the news feeds talked about. Fighting with her, Walli was bound to become a hero like her, she told me.

And he did. That's what we were told that day, Nella in her too short dress and me numb, hearing the same words spoken for a third time. Our dinner had burnt on the stove, and the earnest, sad faced young officer had to point out to me that it was smoking so I could go turn it off before I set off the alarms and had a fire control team charging into my kitchen. I returned to the door; the man never came in, never asked to sit down, just wanting to deliver his bad news then get out as quickly as possible. Doubtless he had other families to visit that day. Nella was in tears on my shoulder as I accepted the flag and medals and signed for the transport of his remains, if and when the military situation would allow it. We heard how he downed two Ariliomax fighters, becoming an ace in one day before destroying another when their jets collided. So his total was six and three-quarters, and he earned the Bronze Star that day, fighting for us all. We should be proud, he said.

Was I proud? Was I proud to lose another, proud to have my once bustling family finally, for once and forever shredded to pieces? No, I wasn't proud. I was only angry, screaming out my silent grief to that awful cold hard darkness of space. Angry that it was my family that should feel proud once again, proud that Nella's fathers and sister and brother were gone, killed on some alien world fighting for something that hell, maybe needed fighting for but why us, yet again? Lots of families had loss, but they carried on. We all died that day, and even though I still had Nella it wasn't long before she too was gone, unable to stay in a place that reeked of death and despair. She lost her home world, her people and her birth family, then both her adoptive fathers, a sister and a brother and now, she was losing me too, as I couldn't leave the one place she could no longer tolerate. The burden of grief was too much and within a year she moved in with some boyfriend, far too old for her and then, luckily when he broke her heart she moved back home to the Bailes system, along with her much more suitable girlfriend. This was at last, a lucky thing- she might have been lost to me but hopefully not lost to herself.

So maybe I will go. Leave the flags and the dusty medals, leave the photographs and the echoes of the tears and the laughter. Pack up the memories and leave the rest behind. Burn the past down in hopes to reclaim some sort of future. Burn it all.

Maybe I will go.

Bio: Gavin Ross is a Toronto based writer, health care worker and father. He is also a cancer survivor, chronic pain sufferer and a brain injury survivor. He has lived in Hamilton, Vancouver, Calgary, Philadelphia and Adelaide, Australia before settling seventy-three kilometres (forty-five miles) from where he was born. “Homecoming” is from his ongoing science fiction collection “Voices From the Cold Hard Darkness.” He can be reached at

Part IV. From a Different Perspective

Collateral Damage, poetry Second Place
by Sally Rosenthal

Piercing blackened desert air,
my terrified mother's screams,
obliterated by exploding bombs and
the roar of our collapsing house,
are the last sounds I hear before
lying crushed beneath tons of rubble,
my own cries silenced
in a mouthful of ash and grit.
Was I an Arab or a Jew?
Does it really matter now?
God weeps for all dead children.

Ship of Theseus, poetry First Place
by Brit Nycum

Nights, days bedridden
Make me a new body, I implore you

Build me a body out of clay
so that every time I break
you can glue the pieces back together
and turn me into a kintsugi masterpiece
with gold in my scars
where anyone can see the fault lines
that have battered my vessel
and consider myself beautiful as I waste away

Build me a body of spare parts
metal bits and gears
with wires to tie me all together
Forge me in fire
as you weld me into a clockwork toy
Just wind me up and let me go
and I'll go faster than I have in my entire life
trying to outrun the illnesses that plague me
Attempting the impossible

Build me a body out of stone
carved marble and appliqué crystals
Possibly the sturdiest yet
weathering all types of climatic phenomena
yet nothing can slow down the ravaging storms
that will erode me slowly over the years
until I resemble a Greek sculpture
chipped away from the passing of time
and conquest

Make me a new body, I implore you
anything else will do but a question remains –
Will it still be me
or just a construct looking as such?

Bio: Brit is a disabled, queer, non-binary writer of poems and short stories mostly focused on their struggles with the multiple chronic illnesses they live with. They are currently working on a poetry collection and a modern fairy-tale-esque novella where disabled characters are attuned to magic and who go on a quest as a final project for their magical graduate school. They live with their polycule, two step-kids, and six cats. They love everything dark but also floral – imagine cottage core meets goth. They read avidly, enjoy board games, and are a stereotypical, unapologetic nerd.

Arctic, poetry Honorable Mention
by Christian Ward

The first time you tasted chemotherapy,
there were no side effects apart from an Arctic
chill turning your lips blue like the wiry
hospital blanket you wrapped yourself in.

You shivered the troughs and peaks
of the Cordillera range, mirroring
the echocardiogram to come. No snow
fell in your cubicle, but it was cold
enough to trace the outline of a snowman
with your breath. Colouring it in,
impossible. You could’ve sworn there

were animals with you: a chandelier-antlered
caribou. The travelling village of a herd
of musk ox. Arctic wolves. A lone polar bear,
back curved like an igloo. Dall sheep.
A snowshoe hare. The ghost of an Arctic fox
at the foot of your bed, silent like a spirit.

Bio: Christian Ward is a physically disabled UK-based writer (paralysed from spinal cord compression) who has recently appeared in Dodging the Rain, Canary, Fevers of the Mind and Seasonal Fruits Magazine.

Special Persecutor, poetry
by Margaret D. Stetz

my pain is classified
top Secret
yet scattered
but you must
look for it
send special agents
and you will miss it
attend my words
to hear it
through me
as I move
some of it lies
behind a wall
of smiles
and some is
across my days
just waiting
to be archived
buried with me
in a poem

Bio: Margaret D. Stetz is the Mae & Robert Carter Professor of Women's Studies at the University of Delaware, USA, as well as a widely published poet. She experienced a life-changing injury in July 2021 and now lives with chronic pain, neuropathy, and impaired functioning of her left hand and arm.

Morpheus Memo, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

Slumber and I were never close friends…
Likely theory: vigilance for infant stressors mis-educated sleep.
Every evening, wakeful, TV 'thralling brain, from living room,
Every morning, before my seventh year, early rise,
Playing quietly an hour or two.

Don't have Non-24-I've done research,
Extensive, to slake my ASD curiosity-
Finding out that sleep issues plague autistics, too.
I developed delayed sleep-wake phase, when I was 8-
Can't take much more-collective symptoms, rude and shameless, announce themselves now.
It bites, like incessant, droning mosquitoes!
Thank God for nighttime supplements!

Bio: Sandra Streeter, a blind graduate of the youth ministry program at Gordon College, and of Western Michigan University's Blind Rehabilitation program, has had a lifelong passion for excellent communication of all kinds. Previously, she has dipped her toe in the “publication pool” through successful submissions to Dialogue, Our Special and Magnets and Ladders. A self-described “rabid fan of the progressive-rock band Rush,” she is currently embarking on the adventure of writing a chapbook about, and dedicated to, its late drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart. Lighter pursuits include serious crocheting, 35-year membership in the Mystic River Chorale, participation in several Facebook groups related to either Rush or autism, and conversing in “meow” with her beloved 13-year-old tuxedo girl, Emily, who is pleased as punch that she gets included in some of Sandra's verse.

Color and Light, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

I remember color,
Bright blues and orange,
Dusky gray and brown
In all seasons.

With limited vision,
Some were lovely, some merged,
Hurt to look at
Or made my stomach turn-
Red, the biggest culprit.

Now, they’re gone.
Well-meaning folk say
I am lucky to have seen.
Perhaps, true, how i want to
See a brilliant sky, ocean green
With foamy waves
Instead of flat, distant memory.

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing fiction and poems since age 12. Her inspiration is music, life experience and prayer. Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and fan fiction. She is totally blind.

Blind by Proxy, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

Adjusting to vision loss takes teamwork. And my teammate is Lola. Lola stands five foot four, has curly red hair and a gap-tooth grin. She feels deeply and laughs easily. She approaches challenges with enthusiasm. She wants to learn everything about everything. She was Professor of Nursing-voted Teacher of the Year. She was nurse anesthetist-putting people to sleep and, when the danger passed, bringing them back to a better life.

Lola has laughing blue eyes and wears reading glasses which she misplaces daily. I help Lola find her glasses, her phone and her car keys. I have somber brown eyes and see shadows and light and little else. Lola helps me find my vision, my voice and my place in her heart.

Lola embraces her role as foreign exchange student in Blindland. She's learned to close cupboard doors and open conversations. She's become a skilled sighted guide and door describer. She helps me feel safe in strange places. We negotiate overprotectiveness and self-reliance (which Lola calls stubbornness). She asks before helping and lets me make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. We discuss issues and share vulnerability. The more we talk, the easier it gets. The more we laugh, the more we feel we are the lucky ones.

I depend on Lola. I depend without branding myself deficient. Lola has the tool of sight and views us as equals. My job is to keep us equal by keeping my current blind skills sharp and learning new ways to do old things. That way, I keep my end of the bargain and avoid dependence becoming a dirty word.

Still, dependence implies imbalance. And, while I trust Lola's good will, I've begun to question the veracity of statements such as, “Looks like we're out of potato chips” and, “Too bad they only served you four french fries.” I realize the temptation to mess with the blind man is powerful. When it prevails, I choose to retain unconditional confidence that the stakes are measured in small potatoes.

Dependence confers less power on one party. While that party may choose to get mad and then get even, I take the gentler approach that two can play. Soon, I'll dim the lights (I think), play soft music, arrange the place settings and call Lola to table. Then, as we sit down to our Valentine's dinner, I'll face my partner and paramour and say, “You won't want to eat this pizza. It will taste terrible.” And we'll feel love's gravity and we'll laugh with the lightness of kids at play.

Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss”
He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in numerous publications. As a social worker, he facilitates low vision support groups and has guested on several national podcasts. He has been living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for over three decades. He lives in Colorado with his partner, Michele, his guide dog and two cats.

The Violet Bruise, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

DEDICATION: The following poem, written during National Poetry Month of 2023, is dedicated in loving memory of my third Leader Dog, Zoe, who was born on April 23, 2007; became my Leader Dog on June 6, 2009; and died literally of a broken heart (hemangiosarcoma) on March 16, 2016.

The developing bruise had turned violet.
she could not see the swollen area
nor discern its transforming color; yet
she felt the tones of violet
and the swelling pains of the memory.

On one day
in that long-too long-span of difficult days
between her second and third guide dog-
person with the white cane fell maneuvering the curb of the circle drive
where, In front of the 23-story tower,
concrete is hard.

Cane not broken, but glasses broken,
probably an undiagnosed concussion,
no memory of the minute or more before and after the fall,
sick at her stomach,
sick of the white cane.

Eye, temple, and bridge of nose too sore to wear
broken glasses or other glasses-
she missed school that day,
but taught the next
because life goes on;
and eventually,
the magnificent Leader Dog Zoe
came to her rescue
and miraculously up-righted the world again.

Building a Life, poetry
by leonard tuchyner

As I grow old, my life passes before me, not in fact, but metaphors and images — appearing as a structure in progress.
Each fleeting glimpse shows another phase.

Envisioning a stunning edifice,
I got to work building a Taj Mahal.
But alas, it looked like a common house, with meager walls and space to abide in.
It needed domes to replace the ceiling,
a life worthy of notice and respect.
And yet, a building easily approached,
with passageways to breach the walls.

As I built, I encountered conflicts of
purpose, needs, protection and openness.
Too many conflicts to mention here.
Construction became ever more intricate.

The structure doesn't look like what I wanted.
I' had to conclude the job is impossible, being a creature at war with himself, as I suppose we all must ultimately be.
I infer that intentions are more important than actual results or appearances.

Constancy is preferred in most situations.
But I favor flexibility,
and demands of life call for suppleness.

Bio: Leonard, now 83, uses assistive technology to read and navigate. He has been writing for 40 years and has published three books of fantasy, poetry, and drama. Currently he is working on a sci-fi novel.

He lives with his wife of 44 years and one old dog. He is an avid gardener and enjoys long walks.

Leonard facilitates three critique groups for Behind Our Eyes, and one Writing for Healing and Growth group at the local senior center, which he has been doing for 18 years.

He has worked as a psychotherapy practitioner. Leonard has also writen columns for Dialogue and a local newspaper.

November 24, 2012, poetry
by Douglas G. Campbell

wake up
fall to the floor
a distorted reality
begins to emerge

at the hospital
she tells me
my intelligence is intact
but my language
is broken

the words on the card
looked like a puzzle
to be solved
but not by me

what is aphasia?
I guess I'll find
out as time goes on

and the poems
didn't come
and the art
faded away

Bio: Douglas G. Campbell has a language disorder called aphasia (acquired from a stroke in 2012). He lives in Portland, Oregon and is Professor Emeritus of Art at George Fox University where he taught painting, printmaking, drawing and art history courses. He is also the author of Parables Ironic and Grotesque (2020), Tree Story (2018), Turning Radius (2017), Parktails (2012), Facing the Light: The Art of Douglas Campbell (2012), and Seeing: When Art and Faith Intersect (2002). His poetry and artworks have been published in numerous periodicals. His artwork is represented in collections such as The Portland Art Museum, Oregon State University, Ashforth Pacific, Inc. and George Fox University. You can see Douglas' artwork at:

Train to Nowhere, poetry
by Rochelle M. Anderson

Crash!!! Collision!!! Critical!!!

Caboose in rear. Dastardly blood clot

in my leg
Traveled up my pulsing veins. Hole in my heart

into my furious brain
Boxcar next. Skull cracked. Bandana covers shaved head,

lump under my scalp
Curved track. Aphasia dam blocks

the ABC's flowing out
Dining car, buffet lost. A jigsaw puzzle

with pieces scattered
Sleeping berth, dimmed. Mouth sewn shut

Wires disconnected, solder old circuits?

Baggage car, darkened. Wear a mask to hide

in the shadows
Flat car, changed forever. Cannot read newspapers,

difficult to speak words
Freight car with cargo. Scrabble game, tiles missing,

upside down, backwards
Tank car, emptied. Right half of body damaged,

will never recover
Observation car, view world. Inside all winter,

afraid to slip and fall
Locomotive in the lead, endless train ride

that is my disabled life

Disembark, time to begin new discoveries and wander afar

Bio: Rochelle M. Anderson is an attorney who had a severe stroke in 2007 and almost died. She is still disabled with difficulty walking; and because of aphasia struggles with reading and writing. Ms. Anderson loves poodles, creating seed art, her grandchildren and Lake Superior. She and her husband have visited multiple national parks, attend many theatrical productions, and root for the home team at Twins games. Rochelle has been published in three chapbooks. Writing poetry has helped her recover; and dictation fuels her words.

A Nurse is on the Way, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Fifteen years ago my husband and I agreed to an in-home visit from a nurse whose scheduler called our home number representing our health insurance company. Roger was new to insulin injections, and thought she might have tips on glucose control and testing. Many (dare I say most) talking glucometers are not easy to use, especially for people with rough hands and/or neuropathy in their fingers. The problem arises when the drop of blood does not make good contact with the test strip to produce the proper electrical reaction.

She arrived as scheduled, and we went through the family history, hospitalization record, blood pressure test, glucometer reading, onset of blindness, diabetes, etc. When she announced our visit was over, Roger said we had some questions. What could he do to get better glucose monitoring? We thought she would watch him test, and tell him what he was doing wrong. Was there anything he should know about, or try to adjust, to avoid kidney disease which often leads to dialysis? Vague and valid but incomplete information was all we received. I asked if our insurance had a program for transportation to appointments. She said I should call our main insurance number which, by the way, she didn’t have. We received no business cards or copies of her notes when she left, and were frankly too shocked to comment on this wasted hour of our time. Our doctor and insurance company already had all this information.

In what way was this visit supposed to be of value to us? Were they thinking of canceling our coverage? Did they suspect us of trying or seeking something that went against their stipulations?

There were no changes to our service. No questions came from our doctor or insurance company. When we asked our primary care physician (PCP) what this visit was worth to her, she said she had nothing to do with it, and that maybe it was something our insurance provider required.

We knew that wasn’t true. We had been with this Medicare Advantage plan under Blue Cross for ten years without a home visit except for the regular nursing and physical therapy visits after my hip replacement. We liked our doctors and the prescription options. Although I mentioned it when I talked with a representative from the company, I don’t believe any notes were taken, and I received no clear answers. We, as they say, let it go by, knowing that next time we would ask specific questions or opt out.

Fast forward fifteen years. Roger and our son managed to ignore the home visit calls in the future. I told the scheduler I would opt out of the visit unless it was required by the company or our primary care physician. In 2024 I had another of those calls. They began by assuring me the nurse was a licensed practical nurse. I had a few new questions, and hoped there’d been an upgrade in service. With some time to kill and a little curiosity in mind, I let them schedule a visit.

No one arrived at the appointed time. Maybe this was a sign that they realize I don’t need this visit. But sure enough, she called bright and early the next day, and arrived about an hour later.

First, she didn’t have my information in order to do the interview. She walked into another room with her phone, obviously so I couldn’t hear her, and came back a few minutes later with whatever she needed. Next, her computer wasn’t cooperating—nothing new about that. During the last part of the interview, she couldn’t find her pulse oximeter. I offered my talking device, then what do you know, she found hers.

When she finished, I had some questions. Why were these visits scheduled? She told me she usually worked and visited seniors with insurance provided by the state. Her third-party contractor with our insurance plan usually served what they call “frequent flyers” E.G. people who visit emergency rooms and urgent cares; call ambulances and keep coming up with new medical problems. The only way I fit into those parameters is that I’m a senior. She did not know why I was selected. Perhaps I should call the main number for my insurance company? They and my primary care physicians were the only people who would receive my information, she said.

I asked if she knew what programs our company provided regarding transportation, continuous glucose monitors for diabetics in good control but not on insulin, exercise and diet information, etc. She had no answers. She asked me if I were taking advantage of all the state and community services. At least she cared.

She was friendly, and because of a casual discussion, we exchanged praise and predictions about our favorite basketball teams. She asked me whether we cooked for ourselves, and in general how we got things done which required sight E.G. driving, shopping, etc. She wasn’t being nosy, she was interested. I never mind sharing my confidence and competence or lack thereof when asked. People with disabilities don’t do our community any favors by being defensive, in my opinion.

She was just doing her job. I did not hold her accountable for this waste of my time and of our healthcare tax dollars. I will again mention my experience when I talk with a representative from our provider.

My concern is about wasted healthcare dollars. Why pay for unnecessary visits like mine? I realize my experience is only the tip of the iceberg. We hear comments about unnecessarily expensive medications, tests, and procedures all the time. One man or one company, perhaps even one government, can’t fix the problem overnight. Federal, state, and local programs help in various ways, and at various levels. Perhaps an individual complaint will never receive attention, and certainly I will not follow the chain of command and start at the bottom of the ladder where I’m sure my comments will not be considered important. I hope that if I write or Email someone on the insurance or Medicare website in charge of patient monitoring, at least my comments might go into someone’s file. I hope that if we complain individually with clear examples of wasted spending, someone will take an interest and recommend some corrective action. If we speak in generalities about high healthcare costs, I don’t think we get much attention.

It’s a new year at the time of this writing. I will not be scheduling another appointment to bring a nurse to my door based on a phone call from a third-party agency. I’m not angry, just disappointed. If they want to send someone to talk to me, let it be someone who knows our company’s optional services well, and someone who can complete forms for me or put me in touch with the appropriate representative.

Transactional Analysis, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

Way back when I was in graduate school, way back when Gerald Ford was president, I studied a psychological counseling approach known as Transactional Analysis. Whatever your recollection of Gerald Ford, here's what I recall about Transactional Analysis.

Each time I slid a glass of beer across the bar on Wednesday nights at The Bandersnatch Pub, the customer slid fifty cents across the bar to me. That was a transaction. When that customer told me he was having girlfriend troubles and I told him I was too, that was a transaction. When that customer cried in his beer and I figured he'd cried in his beer because of his girlfriend troubles, that was the analysis part.

Ten years after I graduated, ten years after my Transactional Analysis internship at The Bandersnatch Pub, I began losing my eyesight. Losing my eyesight has reduced the information I receive as part of a transaction. While “I statements” and “F words” come through loud and clear, I miss the nods and winks, the shuffles and struts. Deprived for over three decades of those visual effects, how much of the Transactional Analysis continuum am I missing?

“You don't miss much,” says my partner, Lola. “You can read people, interactions, situations. Yesterday, you described how the doctor entered the room, sat in his chair, scooted over to face us, leaned forward, placed his elbows on his knees and clasped his hands-before he even said a word. How you knew that is beyond me.”

“What I knew was what I heard. I just added the visuals. That made a transaction. The larger part was the analysis-putting that transaction into the context of the situation. The doctor had serious news to impart. He did so with kindness. His bedside manner was gentle. He treated us with respect. All this became evident to me.”

“I was sitting next to you and could see his every move, his every expression. You saw none of that yet the picture is identical for both of us.”

“This may sound weird but sometimes I think seeing is distracting. We lose sight of the big picture amid the bright, shiny objects, amid the bling.”

“I'm beginning to see how vision has little to do with eyesight.”

“Absolutely! This morning, when I knocked over my big mug of cocoa, I had a vision of dark chocolate spreading over our white tablecloth. I couldn't see it but I saw it. Sometimes, I think I see quite clearly.”

“Like I said, you don't miss much.”

“Not much? I sure missed that morning mug of cocoa.”

Part V. The Writers’ Climb

The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron, book review nonfiction Honorable Mention
reviewed by Kate Chamberlin

Susie Daiss, Senior Associate with the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester, New York, placed my gloved hand on the marble base of a statue and stood back. I felt a small foot with perfect toenails and followed up the multiple folds of fabric carved into the marble.

Imagine my surprise when my hand discovered a single, small breast of a nubile female. She held a stick, broken off at the top, in her right hand. The base of the stick was tangled in her skirt.

I was puzzled to find her left arm was raised and crossed over her body to her right ear. I wondered why the girl had her cupped hand facing behind her.

Continuing up, I felt her smooth facial features. When I reached the top of her head, I couldn't tell if she had wavy hair or wore some kind of hat. Then, continued down her left side to her left foot. The heel was raised, her toes on the ground. She appeared to be fleeing something in fear and listening to hear if it was catching up to her.

Susie asked me to go back to the statue's face and describe her eyes. When I said her eyes are closed. It dawned on me that this girl is blind! I gasped. My throat closed. I choked up and tears welled up in my own blind eyes. I was surprised at my visceral reaction, knowing the fear and panic this blind girl must have experienced.

I'm in awe that a chunk of pure white marble, carved centuries ago, could convey such a powerful emotion in me. What inspired the sculptor?

The statue I was exploring entitled “Nydia, The Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii”, had been modeled in 1855-56 and carved in 1858 by Randolph Rogers (an American artist, born in Waterloo, New York, 1825-1892).

The inspiration for the marble statue came from a popular novel written in 1834 entitled The Last Days of Pompeii by Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron (1803-1873).

At the time of his writing, the excavation of Pompeii was already underway. They found so many places and things in perfect condition exactly where they were, even skeletal remains, buried under 13-20 feet of volcanic ash and pumice in the Eruption of Mount Vesuvius on August 24, 79 AD.

Baron Lytton masterly crafted fact and fiction, prose and poetry into a beautiful, alas tragic, love story based on historical writings, paintings, artifacts, and on-site excavations. He stated he wanted to people its deserted streets, repair the town's graceful ruins, and to reanimate its varied population.

I actually enjoyed immersing myself in this epic saga, with its philosophical discussions, flowery speeches, rich vocabulary including Latin, and the clashing of Roman Gods, Greek Gods, and the nascent Christianity.

I like the way the author gently insinuated the sources of the text and compared the ancient to what it might have been in 1834. He did it in such a way that it did not detract from the narrative arc or emotion of the scene.

Throughout the book, the fore-shadowing's of the pending doom of the antagonist, gladiators, the triangle of lovers, and indeed, the town were artfully built up until the fruition and climax.

“Our art is to divert to a milder sadness on the surface the pain that gnaws at the core.” (Lytton)

The sculpture “Nydia, The Blind Flower Girl”, carved in 1858, will appeal to everyone. The story that inspired the sculpture, The Last Days of Pompeii was written in 1834, during an age when people valued reading and were not distracted by electronic devices, so I think educators and retirees would enjoy contemplating the discussions presented in this classic tome.

Available From NLS/BARD/LOC:
The last days of Pompeii DB17605
Lytton, Edward Bulwer Lytton, Baron Reading time: 14 hours, 22 minutes.
Also From the Project Gutenberg, BookShare, and a bookstore near you.

Bio: Kathryn G. (Kate) Chamberlin, B.S., M.A., and her husband have lived and raised three children plus two grandchildren atop the drumlin in Walworth, NY, since 1972.

With the assistance of computer screen reader software, this former Elementary teacher, developed a Study Buddy Tutoring Service, presented her Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Workshop, became the published author of three children's books, edited a literary anthology featuring 65 writers with disabilities, andis a free-lance writer.

As empty nesters, Kate and her husband enjoy having lunch out, country walks, and mall cruising or walking on their side-by-side treadmills during inclement weather.

Seeking the Source, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

Hearing of a magical poetic tree,
I search for the inspiration’s source.
Seeking near the ground,
it alludes me.
Looking higher, I behold,
blooms of letters,
surrounding me.
Colorful words festoon the ground.
Syllables wave gently in the breeze.
Speckled articles poke me.
Lush, they cluster close.
Aromas of sweet fruits,
of phrases assaults my mind.
Tasting success.
I find a line that suits.
Short and squat
not like the rest.
I look for rhyme,
for the best.
Reaching high,
on a branch.
I touch a pod.
Growing in small quads.
Breaking open,
spore release.
Feather like,
they blow here, there.
floating everywhere.
Catching in my hair.
A poem blossoms,
appears from I know not where.
The tree materializes to those in need.
To complete your poem,
you must plant the seed.

Bio: As a poet, blogger and family historian, Carol Farnsworth relates stories with a humorous twist. Born with a congenital eye disease that slowly caused her blindness. She strives to see the light side of life. With her daughter Ruth and husband John, She has traveled by bike, car and plane discovering the natural world. Her writings have appeared in on line magazines and publications. Her books include Leaf Memories, a chapbook of nature from a tandem bike. She contributed to Strange Weather Anthology, True Quirks of Nature by Marlene Mesot.
Visit her WordPress blog at


We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners.

Please note: Funds for contest prizes are provided by Behind Our Eyes. Checks for prize winning entries not cashed within 6 months of the issue date are void and considered a donation back to Behind Our Eyes. No additional payments will be made to replace the uncashed check. If you intend your prize winnings to be a donation, please let us know upon winning so we can send you a donation receipt letter.

Remember, the deadline for submissions is August 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

Rhythm, Passion, Pride: Five Voices Deliver a Message, nonfiction
by Marolyn Brandt Smith

Joan Myles, Behind Our Eyes member and founder of our Readers’ Workshop for writers with disabilities, was suffering through the isolation and desperation COVID-19 brought to America. In 2021 her poetry critique group was reading the work of Maya Angelou for inspiration and appreciation. Her rhythms spoke to Joan.

The “Black lives matter” protest movement was on the minds of everyone watching the nightly news. Joan was troubled by the injustice, violence, street and crowd demands, and other changes the media brought to her attention. Despair and discrimination issues churned in her heart.

The rhythmic way Maya Angelou addressed needs felt like the right strategy for Joan to express her need to speak out. In 2021 she wrote the poem “Come On Justice.” The words and rhythms found their pattern quickly, but the inspiration and expression took months to jell. When she believed it was ready, she Shared it with her Behind Our Eyes Critique group and then read it at Readers’ Workshop (an open-mic monthly gathering of Behind Our Eyes). She asked members in attendance to repeat the line, “Come On Justice,” after each stanza as a crowd-chanted response. This effect moved the poem into new territory. The oral tradition of spoken word performance found a new vehicle.

News traveled about the crowd response at the workshop. Joan’s poem circulated among members. Peter Altschul, percussionist and soundscape artist, was soon struck with a desire to take the performance possibilities further. His ideas about rhythms and focus led him to a recording studio where he produced a piece containing a track of phrasing and verbal enhancement, whispers and shouts, backed by a mix of live and synthesized percussion.

Joan had to think twice when she heard his interpretation. It was beyond her imagination, a little crazy, a little wild, she thought. Still, she knew it had something going that made her poem sound stronger. It was still her poem, but she dared to realize it could be more. She had to step back and allow her poem to belong to others in part; she had to let the poem go where it wanted to go.

Annie Chiappetta was the next Behind Our Eyes writer to ponder the poem as set down by Peter’s hands and voice. She liked it, wanted to be part of its development, and assured Joan they could all work together-a team was formed. Joan lived on the west coast, Annie east, and Peter lived in the middle of the country.

They wanted more voices, so they asked Abbie Johnson Taylor of Wyoming to lend her youthful sound to help represent people Joan knew were active in the call for solutions to problems. Jason Castonguay had the same strength and blend, and they hoped he would also be their master editor and producer. Jason had audio editing experience, the right software, and understood the multi-track nature of the project. He was a vocal and instrumental musician. Abbie and Jason were motivated by the intricacy of the work they needed to do to strengthen the message of motivation they would be sending.

The Zoom platform was used for anyone who couldn’t record at home or with professional assistance. Tracks flew across the country through the Internet. Phrases, words, volume changes, and individual interpretations of the title, “Come On Justice,” would be the staging for the recitation of the poem. Stanzas were chosen or assigned by mutual agreement.

The final edit was first presented to an audience in 2022. It was a featured performance at the Friends in Art showcase during the pre-convention activities of the American Council of the Blind convention in July 2023. On January 7, 2024, Program Manager Alice Massa of Behind Our Eyes brought the five musicians, writers, and poets together to present their story for our Zoom meeting. They were able to show us how they accomplished this inspiring challenge. You’re welcome to enjoy their journey with all its details. The meeting recording is on our Special Events page at

Everyone agreed the message is still as relevant as it was three years ago; black lives will always matter; law enforcement focus is not always what it should be; people shopping, at church, or children at school can’t feel as safe as they should. Our court system takes too long to demand justice and rectify injustice.

Joan’s message helps us tolerate patience while we aim for constructive solutions for the challenges of today. This performance demonstrates that we don’t have to stay quiet.

Joan’s poem stands strong as a creative literary work. Read it next in this online magazine.

Behind Our Eyes brings writers together for classes, book launches, and critiques. Our Email list and regular conference calls provide information and inspiration. Authors can network for special productions such as “Come On Justice.”

Come On Justice, poetry
by Joan Myles

somethin's stirring in the wind and weather
somethin's roaring in the stormy tide
somethin's rising up for good and better
come on Justice come

somethin's beating in the hearts of young folks
somethin's rushing down the halls of time
somethin's urging us before all hope's broke
come on Justice come

smash the idols that compel us
fear and prejudice and greed
clear the pathways that repel us
come on Justice come

somethin's truer than the tears that blind us
somethin's shining on the hill ahead
somethin's marching in the streets behind us
come on
come on Justice
come on Justice come

Bio: Joan Myles has always been a child of wonder as well as a spiritual seeker. When she lost her sight at the age of 12, these qualities and writing poetry saved her from despair

Joan earned a BA in elementary Education, a Master's in Jewish Studies, and has been teaching Hebrew and Judaics to third through 6th graders for over 15 years. During that time, she also founded Yismehu, a non-profit organization which provided free Jewish learning to blind students nationwide via distance learning, and served as both textbook developer and instructor for seven years.

Joan and her husband raised four children together, and currently live in Oregon, where she continues to delight in the wonders of Life Divine, and in the magic of words.

Joan is the author of One With Willows and One Glittering Wing.

Donation Request

Do you enjoy reading Magnets and Ladders? Consider making a donation to Behind Our Eyes, a 501C3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities. Behind Our Eyes provides funding to support all Magnets and Ladders activities and all Magnets and Ladders editorial and technical staff members are Behind Our Eyes Members.

You may make a contribution using the PayPal button on our website

Large Object, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott

In this warmer and brighter time, it is good to remind ourselves of what we have written and promised to do…

I called my computer wizard, Angel, to talk about our schedules “to work next week.” I hadn't seen my facility's activity calendar yet, though it was early December. Staff was having trouble with holiday coordination. Add to that, our building's renovation of painting and reflooring. (We all wondered whose idea that schedule was.) And the weather people hinted snow for the middle of the following week.

Angel had a doctor’s appointment, a writers' group audit and a job interview already on her calendar. As she checked her upcoming days, she suddenly started to laugh. “Oh my,” she said, “on Monday, my calendar says, 'LARGE OBJECT.' I have no idea what I meant.”

I quipped, “What? The meteor will hit your roof? The dinosaur will arrive in your backyard Monday morning? Santa's sleigh practicing badly?”

“I was probably talking to somebody and I wrote what they said instead of whatever the important thing was.”

She paused and added, “I need a vacation.”

Angel is a writer, and editor, and she owns a small book publishing business ( She has multiple cats, a large dog, and a cockatoo, and a daughter starting college. And she's job hunting. Correct calendar notations are important.

I said, “You have to write a blog about this.”

I bet most writers have written strange notes to themselves. Or they write goals and don't review them in the summer. I generally write phone numbers without writing whose phone numbers they are. I'm sure I'll remember but I never remember.

We hung up and I went on to the next things on my list for that day. About an hour later, Angel called back.

Her message said, “I know what large object means.”

I quickly called back. She explained, “It's rather disappointing actually. Every month, we can put one large object out for trash. That's what I meant.”

I laughed some more. “I'm glad it was sort of what you meant. It's really funny given that we spend serious time talking about the best daily planners and how cool all that organizing is. Your blog post could be THIS FEARLESS EDITOR WRITES NOTES TO SELF.”

And now, my to-do list has gone out the window because I have to write this, too. I still have time for a first draft before lunch. So, I don't forget.

Tracking our progress is important. We all know that writing should make sense. To someone. To at least the author?

Too bad it wasn't a small meteor landing harmlessly and selling for thousands. Or the alien went the wrong way. He could just hide out as another pet, while fixing his GPS (Galaxy Positioning System).

PS- Angel and her daughter still forgot to put out a large object. So there will be another resolution about better wording and actually looking at the words or the goals or the calendar. I know some of us can relate.

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 925 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. Her latest chapbook The Almost Abecedarian, appears on Amazon. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Braille Forum, Chrysanthemum, Kaleidoscope, One Sentence Poems, Shark Reef, Wordgathering, The Mighty, and Yahoo News.

Echoes in My Eyes, book excerpt
by Kelly Sargent

Genre: poetry / memoir in verse
Publisher: Kelsay Books (
Publication date: March 2024
Paperback, 42 pages, $17.00
Kindle, $7.74.

Handheld Voices

Four tiny, identical hands
sculpted a language without sound,
rich with revelations, exclamations, declarations,
and the curious questions of hearing impaired twins in three countries.

No practicing of hard and soft consonants
and no exchanging of short and long vowels
slipped through chapped lips
and rolled on fruit punch-stained tongues

while handling wooden blocks and stacking plastic rings.
A hearing family's throated language
did not hop and bop in the girls' mouths
or sweeten and spice their shared space.

There were no ma-mas and da-das
or verbal declarations of mine!
that romped in the company of grown-ups.

fingers wiggled,
thumbs folded,
knuckles bent,
tendons flexed.

Palms opened and closed, like oysters,
to reveal
precious pearls
of concept and emotion;

to shape,
to hone,
to reveal a language
known only to two.

The excited exclamation, I have an idea!
sprang from a small, erect index finger
with raised auburn eyebrows
and a smacking of lips spreading into an impish grin.

Four consecutive twists of the wrist
with curled three-year-old fingers
holding an invisible soup can
translated to: Time to go to the food store with Mommy.

Shopping at a bustling market,
a mother plucked items from the shelves-
such as a dented can of Campbell's soup-
and with a bangled wrist twist,
turned one over to locate the price on the bottom.

For nearly seven years, before touching down
in the land of American Sign Language,
communication existed
within a world of unique invention,

by a hearing family
with ignorant sight.

The girls used their native language
while chewing meals at the dining table,
muted only during the spooning of tomato soup
and the cutting of roast pork with dull knives.

A faded photograph
snapped by the wife of a fisherman
of murmuring mountain streams
named Daddy

captured twins in identical striped outfits
sitting cross-legged on a manicured lawn
with a pile of freshly caught rainbow trout
nestled in the grass between them.

Frozen in time is a moment when inspiration struck one,
as evidenced by a tiny finger in the air,
a head cocked to the side,
and lips parted in an inspired smile.

What did four-year-old girls wearing pigtails
tied with pink and white ribbons
wish to do with a half-dozen dead fish in the waning summer sun?
Only two in the world knew.

Meanwhile, a fisherman and his wife
chatted beside them.
One held a camera in her hands,
and one held a fishing rod in his.

Four hands,


What Did They Say?

Your twin sister is retarded, the teenage neighbor boy
sneers over the picket fence.

What did he say? your grass-stained four-year-old hands
sign to me between somersaults.

He's mad because he can't do a somersault
as good yours, I tell you,

and lead you to the peeling swing set
on the other side of our house.

When you go in to fetch us cans of Hawaiian Punch,
I run to the fence and spit at his inky shadow through a narrow slat.

On another day, a gangly blond girl
who lives three doors down the street

points at you and shouts retard
as we pedal gleaming new bikes with training wheels-

mine with a white wicker basket
and yours with red, white, and blue streamers-

down the sidewalk past her porch.
What did she say? you sign beside me

with one hand off the handlebar.
She likes your streamers, I sign.

When you turn your head
to look at a squirrel that has caught your eye,

I show the gangly blond girl a lone finger,
like I had seen grown-ups do sometimes when they were mad.

Months later, when it is time to enroll us in kindergarten
in a new country, grown-ups separate us

because they say I will help you too much
if we are in the same classroom.

No one signs in your new classroom;
everyone is hearing.

We, at least, ride the school bus home together.
You tell me every day: I don't know what they say.

We play “School” every day when we get home
with our Fisher Price desk and a slate with blue chalk.

I arrange magnetic letters of the alphabet
and count with colored beads I put into piles

to teach you what I learn in my classroom-every single day.
Now it's your turn, I tell you.

Pretend you are Teacher
and teach Owl the same things I just taught you.

Nearly two years later, in another country again,
we find our second new school-

this one with one classroom for deaf students-
and grown-ups test you when we enroll.

She learned much more than one would have expected, they say.
They speak of your intelligence and your capability.

And I tell you
…what they say.


Weaving in the Dark

In soft-slippered, early morning light,
while nestled in twin beds
on opposite sides of a bedroom
wallpapered with daisies,
we often opened eight-year-old, sleep-dusted eyes
within seconds of each other.

Our handheld voices still tucked under covers-
mine sky blue and
yours cotton candy pink-
would emerge to sign our daily greetings
and plan the following hours' adventures.

Each day, while California tilted toward the sun,
a signed language spun textured fibers
and wound them into vibrantly-colored threads
to weave the rich fabric of a shared, quilted childhood.
At bedtime, though,
light left us,
and darkness made us mute.

Unwilling, yet, to be silenced,
you would slip into my bed beside me
under my sky blue cover
to chat about morning episodes of The Brady Bunch,
afternoon games of hide-and-seek in the park,
and evening cartwheels with sun-kissed arms on the lawn.

I fingerspelled
in the dark,
one letter at a time.
You covered my right hand with your both of your own,
feeling my fingers and knuckles
form letters

into words
into sentences
into giggles.
I paused after each letter,
waiting until you tapped my wrist
to nod your understanding.

Because it was
the most time-efficient means of exchange,
you used your vocal cords,
still unsteady and awkward,
which I, alone,
understood without error.

While my vocal cords rested easy,
yours carried strenuously
words that you could not hear.
Unable to calibrate pitch
and gauge appropriate levels of sound,
your often indecipherable

and too-loud commentary
reached our parents' ears
beyond our closed door.
Most nights, one flicked on a scolding overhead light,
and pointed you to your cotton candy pink covered bed.

Reluctantly, you would leave me,
words still on the loom,
and shelved.

But, there were stories to tell.

I determined to teach you to communicate
using your breath
to contour your words;
to press and release with measured force,
like a gas pedal
that propels or slows a car.

We worked for days,
for weeks,
for months;
until, one night in the darkness,
you crawled into bed beside me,
and whispered into my hearing ear.

Giggles of triumph and delight
escaped our throats without stifle or shame.
When exhausted by spinning embroidered tales,
we clasped our voices together on the quilt,
and sleep found us
on clouds

under cover of a blue sky,
with sunshine
and whispered breezes to warm us.



On the second day in a hearing school
with one classroom for only deaf children,
a new teacher gave twin sisters-
one hard of hearing and one deaf-
names they had never had before:
sign names in sign language.

Using the sign for the word twin
in this new language to them,
the teacher substituted a R, being the first letter of one's first name,
and a K, for the other's,
to replace the letter t, the first letter in the word twin.

Though their two sign names were forever theirs
and intertwined,
one twin left the other
at age twelve
to move to a residential school.

She lived as One,
without a twin
in her bedroom,
at her dining table,
on her playground.

She grew
as a One
and an Only.

After graduating as high school valedictorian
and earning a full university scholarship,
she graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree
and a Master of Science degree
for One.

She backpacked across Europe-
as One,
without a twin to lead her.

She rode only a bicycle
from the east coast of Massachusetts
to the west coast of California
in 43 days,
as One,
without a twin to steer her.

She mastered certification
as a scuba diver
and a skydiver,
as One,
without a twin to teach her.

She visited sixteen countries
on four continents,
as One,
without a twin to join her.

As a surprise, unbeknownst to her twin,
she initiated
and succeeded in
a four-year search to locate
a biological hearing mother living in Rouen, France
and learned of a biological Deaf father from Ireland.
She returned to Europe, again,
without a twin to share her.

One afternoon,
she met for tea with cinnamon
with her twin,
and they toasted with teacups
found at Goodwill
stamped with Made in Luxembourg on the bottoms-
a birth land 3,544 miles away.

Twins drank tea for two
and toasted to One,
who, though born deaf
in a small country,
had come far in a big world

in which the one
and only thing
she could not do
was hear.


Seed Fruit

During a muted morning hour,
a hazel-eyed nurse named Grace
offers me a selection of seed fruit
from a ceramic bowl painted with delicate strawberries.

I recall a hazy, humid day decades earlier
when a honeysuckle breeze
brushed our identical sea-sprayed faces,

sweetening the moments
like a ripened peach
at a summer morning sunrise.

Now, I watch you sleeping
under a hospital building roof
that is steep and unforgiving,

and wait for you to open your eyes
that are your ears, to hear me
holding our language in my hands.

I wrap your limp hand around signed letters
that I form with my fingers
over and over and over again: P-l-e-a-s-e-d-o-n-t-l-e-a-v-e-m-e

I cover you with your favorite plum purple cardigan
that you had been wearing when it happened,
and reach for the chilled ceramic bowl.

My teeth scrape a peach pit,
and I swallow a winding,
wayward river at sunset.

I see a lone praying mantis
on an ash tree branch outside the window.
And I wonder

…if it is.

“Seed Fruit” was originally published in Broad River Review as a finalist for the 2023 Ron Rash Award in Poetry.

Bio: Kelly Sargent is a hard of hearing writer and artist adopted in Luxembourg. She is also the author of an award-nominated memoir in verse entitled Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion (Kelsay Books, 2022), in which she reflects on growing up with her Deaf twin sister in Europe and the United States. She has written for SIGNews, a newspaper for the Deaf and hard of hearing community, and worked with Deaf students in education. She serves as Creative Nonfiction Editor of The Bookends Review and on the Editorial Board of Beyond Words.

Her cover art and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in more than eighty literary journals, most recently including Rattle, Chestnut Review, and Broad River Review. Honors include: The Rash Award in Poetry finalist, Eric Hoffer Award nominee, Touchstone Award for Individual Poems nominee, and two-time Best of the Net nominee. She is also the author of Bookmarks (Red Moon Press, 2023), a collection of haiku and senryu poems, and a children’s storybook entitled Sundae Sundays, winner of the international Firebird Book Award (Children's Inspirational). Visit to learn more about her.

Type Writing Toward My Goals, memoir
by Marlene Mesot

From the time I learned to read and write, I have always wanted to be a fiction writer. This goal became easier once I learned how to type which allowed me to write more quickly and legibly. During my freshman year of public high school I set two long range goals for myself, but I was my own obstacle to their achievement.

Like people, there are some events, and days in your life, that stand out forever in your mind. One such day occurred at an assembly freshman year, where senior students who had been on the honor roll consecutively all four years and seniors who had achieved a typing speed of 60 words per minute or higher without error, stood to be recognized. Being legally blind and having hearing loss since birth applied limits to the possibilities of reaching these goals.

Fortunately, I did achieve the honor roll four-year recognition, but the other goal, not quite.

In my sophomore year I took typing class. Back in the late 1960s even the electric typewriters were big and noisy. It was not uncommon to leave class with a head ache after listening to twenty some odd machines all clacking away at once. Because I learned to type in the third grade in sight saving class, also in public school, I thought typing in high school would be a cinch. Wrong. One semester I got a D. Because the honor roll was based on a B average of all courses, I was able to stay on it with three A's to offset the D. When I talked with my teacher, Mrs. Dority, I was almost crying because I felt so humiliated. I wanted to know how I could have received such a low grade in something I felt I should have excelled in. I can't remember her explanation but I think it had to do with my reading speed which affected my accuracy.

I had known that keeping up with the class would be a struggle. At first Mrs. Dority suggested we try a Dictaphone for me to listen to the text we were to type when timed. The problem with that was I couldn't hear over the clacking. I had to pause typing to listen to the recording. She explained I was supposed to listen and type at the same time, using the foot pedal to start and stop the recording. Even when I tried it solo, with only me and Mrs. Dority in the room, I couldn't do it because I couldn't hear. I had earphones over my hearing aids, and then tried a hearing device in my ears without hearing aids. Neither worked as the key clacking was too loud to hear the voice clearly at the same time, even with raised volume.

Next we tried a tall metal stand on the floor which held a swing arm that held an adjustable desk rack, a metal plate that you could place the book onto to read hands free. The text was large print and the metal arm holding the plate was adjustable. Now the problem was that I couldn't read fast enough with one eye to achieve the speed within the time limit.

Needless to say, the most I was able to achieve was 57 words per minute with accuracy. So close, but no.

I enjoy typing because I can write something that is legible, and I don't need to look to do it. I was not allowed to take shorthand. I conceded that I probably wouldn't have understood the squiggles and loops anyway. I had a hard time learning cursive writing in third grade as I had trouble understanding the shape of the loops and curves of the letters. It was my grandmother, with her eighth grade education, who had patience and helped me to understand cursive.

Thankfully, I never lost my love of typing. I have transitioned from my first manual, large print typewriter, an eighth grade graduation present from my uncle, to an electric typewriter from my husband in the 1990s. I finally moved to a computer keyboard, whose light tapping ticks are thankfully quieter. I have persevered.

It is very easy for people, even loved ones, to say, “She can't do that.” It is up to the individual not to cave to this mentality, to seek help and try to find alternative ways around the obstacles when possible. The ease of typing and my love of words led me to enjoy writing stories since I started first grade. I owe a debt of gratitude to my grandfather for my foundation in phonics. He sat patiently with me at age three and four, while I sounded out the names of the crayons I used to write and draw with. I knew a lot of words in kindergarten during a time when reading wasn’t taught until first grade thanks to my grandparents.

I was an English major as an undergraduate and took a creative writing course in college. Now I am an author. I write Christian fiction, mainly mystery, short stories and some poetry. I can write nonfiction too but it isn't my favorite genre. I didn't let a little disappointment and set back deter me from my goals of typing and writing.

Those of us who live with limitations never take things for granted. We have patience and persevere in spite of odds that we are always fighting. Things don't always work out the way we would hope, but if we are of a quiet spirit and willing to learn, God can use our disappointments. For those of us who believe, we know that God is always in control.

My church pastor remarked wisely, “Our disappointments are God's appointments.” He also once told me, “Keep on keeping on.”
Good advice.

Bio: Marlene Mesot writes contemporary Christian mystery, romantic suspense, fantasy, short stories, and poetry. She has loved writing since early childhood.

An only child, grandchild, and niece from Manchester New Hampshire, she and deceased husband Albert, have two sons, two grandchildren and have raised English mastiff dogs and Morgan horses. Their family now has three male kittens. She is legally blind and moderately deaf due to nerve damage at premature birth.

Marlene holds a Bachelor of Education degree from Keene State in Keene, New Hampshire and a Master's in Library and Information Studies from U-NC Greensboro, North Carolina.

Visit her web site at:

The Road Less TraVersed, visual poem
by Marlene Mesot

Author’s note: The right hand end lines of the poem are set to mimic a winding road as each line of the first stanza gets shorter, the second each line is longer, the third shorter and the fourth longer. The road signs are poetry forms.

As you leave the Villanelle proper,
The road into the forest narrows.
Watch out for fallen Limericks.
Heed the Riddle signs.
Pantoum ahead.

As you pass the lake,
The speed limit is Magic Nine.
Beware the reflective Mirror Palindromes.
Further on you'll find an Acrostic intersection.
Be sure not to get lost in the Sestina switchback.

What, you don't need an Ekphrastic diagram.
You'll be able to follow the Sonnet yourself.
There is almost always a Refrain naturally.
You don't need an Epistolary map either.
No Heroic Couplets here.

No Joke.
Tanka you.
Cascading twists.
Yield to the Oxymoron.

The Poet's Tree, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

If I could hold seeds of hope in my hand
and sprinkle them onto fertile ground,
I would tend them lovingly through the seasons
as they took root, grew, and flourished,
their buds and blossoms a balm to the soul,
their fruits and nuts repast for the hungry.
I would watch their leaves flutter and fall
becoming compost for next year's growth.
I would harvest this hope
and turn it into words of solace and healing.

Part VI. Seasonal and Natural Delights

Signs and Signals of Early Spring, Pi poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

frosty snow
icy edges
concrete stairway steps
I slip my black suede winter boot tip
slip and slide cautiously
testing my balance
slick crow loiters
levitates from snow-clad branch
my two dogs reawaken my thoughts
refocus concentration
noses dig into crusty moist grass
tender grubs
signs and signals of early spring.

Bio: Landscape, pilgrimage, art and memory are the focus for Lynda Lambert's art and writing. The Village of Wurtemburg, in western PA. is where she lives and works.

Her sixth book, Each Day Holds Some Small Joy, featuring little poems from her garden, was released in April 2024.

Lynda's poem, Peaceful Prayer Garden, won third place in Proverse (Hong Kong) Prize for Single Poem – Mingled Voices #8 Anthology. It was released on April 25, 2024. Lynda cares for her 7 cats and 1 dog. She has five grown children.

An April Evening in Milwaukee, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

The foghorn's baritone sets the rhythm for this Milwaukee evening.
An April fog hugs the high-rise Hoan Bridge,
then rolls over the vacant Summerfest grounds.
Gradually the gentle fog spreads like froth over the gray streets and sidewalks,
diffuses the city lights,
muffles the lonely sounds of a single trolley.
The fog disintegrates into a delicate mist-
the oh-so-common mist off the lake-
that softly kisses the face and hands of an evening jogger
whose footfalls keep time with the foghorn on Lake Michigan.

Dogwood Tree, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

In April green buds crack open
and start to blossom
when they morph to white
as if cleansed of sin-stain.
A legend says the dogwood's
blooms are cross shaped,
their tips crimson reminding us
of Christ's crucifixion.

They appear to me
like little angels in training,
their classroom a tree top,
where they're learning
the basics-how to wear
their white wings, lift off,
hover and land,
and by graduation
how to pluck a hopeless
soul mid-air who has
reached desperation
and jumped off a bridge.

Bio: Wesley D. Sims has published three chapbooks of poetry: When Night Comes, 2013; Taste of Change, 2019; and A Pocketful of Little Poems, 2020.

He has had poems nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. His work has appeared in Artemis Journal, Connecticut Review, G.W. Review, Liquid Imagination, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Plum Tree Tavern, Novelty Magazine, Poem, Poetry Quarterly, Time of Singing, Bewildering Stories, and others.

He lost hearing completely in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other.

Adventures Growing Sweet peas, nonfiction
by Sarah Das Gupta

It was love at first sight or perhaps it would be more accurate to say “scent.” This romance began in the heated atmosphere of the preparation room before a village flower show. Forget Chelsea, Florence or Philadelphia. Rivalry, competition, sheer bitchiness is a hundred percent more vicious when it comes to the vicar's roses or Mrs Jones' Victoria sponge than in those palaces of horticultural wonder. In the heated atmosphere of preparation, as a delphinium is squeezed here and a strawberry added there, I had only eyes, and nose, for an amazing bowl of pale mauve sweet peas.

No scent, even in the most expensive looking bottle, could compare with the mystical beauty of the perfume which drifted across the room from those two dozen blooms. From that moment I was captured, possessed by “chipping,” “double digging,” “Spenser varieties,” “shaders,” “setting up” etc. My knowledge of the English language grew quicker than Jack's magic beans! I spent a hot summer lying in a shaded hammock devouring the Bible of the sweet pea world, the gospel according to Saint Bernard Jones.

After a wonderful Indian summer, with that translucent light which transfigures a landscape even more magically than Claude, I was fully prepared as, for the first time, frost was in the air! I had already spent many an enchanted evening lost in technicoloured seed catalogues. While the rest of the family gasped over the delights of winter holidays in St Moritz, I, was lost in the subtle shades of such glorious beauties as Blue Shift, Charlie's Angel or Anniversary! Every time an envelope of seeds rattled through the letter box, I opened it with reverence.

In all the seasons I grew exhibition blooms, I never lost that sense of wonder when I dribbled the seeds onto a plate. Few seeds of other plants, look so unpromising. Knobbly, wrinkled, disgruntled and resentful. They appear like angry currants about to be baked in an oven. How they possess the genes to produce the most elegant and fragrant of all garden flowers is a mystery defying even Christie or Chandler. I always felt they deeply resented being soaked for a day in water, to soften the hard, outer case. Then, even more barbaric, carefully chipped with a sharp knife and then planted into a pot of compost – baptism, followed by burial! By mid- October a series of pots were put out under cold frames to survive and harden through the ravages of winter. The pots are long and thin to accommodate and encourage maximum root growth. The traditional clay pots rejoice in the name 'Long Toms'. Now they are usually replaced by peat pots which can be planted out and will rot down into the earth. Cold frames, for the uninitiated, are wooden or metal rectangular containers with framed glass covers. These can be adjusted according to the weather. In very heavy frost, the young peas need additional protection. I remarked to my mother that her bedroom rugs looked tatty. Expressing surprise at my interest in such domestic niceties, she duly replaced them with a hideous pair of bright blue fluffy “dogs.” Undeterred, I took the original rugs and put them over the cold frames. The peas seemed to rather like the elegant Chinese patterns as they thrived even in temperatures below freezing.

After Christmas, I then, just for the fun of it, repeated the whole process again with a second sowing. This replaced any plants lost in the bad weather and extended the flowering season into late autumn. As the plants grow, it’s necessary to deftly and painlessly, “pinch them out” which will encourage a bushier, more robust plant. I had found the tops of some old concrete coal bunkers in just the right place and at a comfortable height on which to rest my cold frames. I didn’t want to be scrabbling around on frosty ground in order to tend my plants. However, I now had to think about where to plant out my precious, over-wintered peas.

My father, an expert, enthusiastic gardener, had dug up a small allotment at the top of one of our large fields. The rest of the field was full of horses, both our own and those kept at livery. It was well fenced off, to prevent any dangers of an equine invasion. The horses would definitely have been partial to the odd mouthful of green vegetables. He kindly gave me a section of this patch to experiment with sweet peas that first summer.

The next section is not for the faint-hearted, nor for the bank holiday gardener. I set about the backbreaking task of digging out two long trenches and layering the bottoms with well – rotted horse dung, of which there was plenty. Forty or so horses are a reliable supply chain! I then spent a pleasant day of gales and pouring rain, filling the trenches with fresh soil. By the end of that afternoon, I was bedraggled, muddy and stinking of horse manure. The vision of that inspirational bowl of mauve sweet peas was fading fast. In fact, I am reliably informed, I used a rather stronger adjective than “sweet,” to refer to the pea plants.

A week later, with the March sunshine and the smell of freshly cut lawns, my fanaticism returned. The great day of planting out the October pots had arrived. I had already invested in six- foot canes to support the growing plants and with my younger daughter's help, had erected a reasonably strong framework along the trenches. This needs to be strong. Rows of sweet peas by midsummer are heavy, plus the potential damage of wind and thunder storms.

On the day itself, I squatted down, digging a generous hole at the foot of each cane, and planting my precious peas. The roots were satisfying long and robust, the plants themselves, thick and bushy. Again, the tops were pricked out and each plant lovingly tied with raffia to its own cane. After several hours of bending and planting, I tried to stand up. I immediately keeled over, my legs and back refusing to function. Propped up against the fence, I admired the neat rows. The horses all stood around and seemed to nod approvingly. The rest, as they say is history.

Every evening after work, I would rush down to run an anxious, though as yet hardly expert, eye over the plants' progress. I had selected the strongest stem of each plant, pinching off any side shoots, and tied it onto the cane with my ball of raffia. Sweet peas grow rapidly in early summer, tying in becomes an almost daily task. Serious exhibitors grow their prize blooms using this “cordon” method. Any side shoots need to be cut off. All the plant's strength is directed into producing long stems with six perfect blooms on each one. It is also important to pick the stems regularly, between flower shows. This is one of the many pleasures of growing this amazing plant. Should you embark on this exhausting but rewarding journey, Your friends and neighbours will be delighted with a surprise bunch of these wonderfully scented flowers. I enjoyed decorating the local church with bowls of pink, white, mauve, red, dark maroon blooms which filled the side chapels with a floral incense to make even the longest of sermons less tedious.

I eagerly awaited the many local flower shows for a chance to try my hand at exhibiting. The green exhibition vases were traditionally filled with carefully cut stems of rushes to support the blooms and show them to the best advantage. Modern exhibitors use Oasis as a substitute. There is a real skill in showing twelve blooms in perfect condition in a small vase.

I learnt so much from seasoned experts in that first summer. On the evening before the show the blooms had to be selected. Only perfectly straight stems with six flowers would do. I found that milk bottles, the old-fashioned glass type, were ideal to hold about three blooms. The cool garage, filled with crates of these brilliantly coloured flowers, was momentarily transformed into a magical grotto.

Setting up your exhibits can be nerve racking. Most serious sweet pea exhibitors tend to be men. I found them delighted to find a woman joining their ranks and very ready to offer invaluable advice. In addition to classes for individual stems of six or twelve, there are also classes for bowls of massed flowers. I found this the most enjoyable to set up. Using an antique blue and white bowl, I experimented with different coloured arrangements. Starting with deep maroon at the centre, you can gradually work outwards through deep purples, mauves, pale violets and end with cream blooms round the outer edge of the bowl. Of course, you can reverse this, ending with cream flowers at the centre. Any room, whether in a country cottage or a minimalist city apartment, will look and smell better with a bowl of sweet peas.

By the end of the season, I had won a number of certificates, medals and trophies. More importantly, I had proved to myself that a woman can compete successfully with the men. I had also begun a lifelong romance with my favourite flower. You may have been wondering what to do when you reach the top of the canes. Well, hold onto your seats! You untie the stems, run them along the ground and start them again at the bottom of another cane. This process of “lowering” can be repeated. In a good year I have had sweet peas blooming in October. You may be thinking I can't be bothered with all the work and palaver. Well, why not grow a few sweet peas of the old fashioned varieties with wonderful names like Painted Lady, Lord Nelson or the intriguing Almost Black!? No need here for those daunting cordons and the scent is superb. Nothing could be more enchanting on a summer morning than to wake up with that perfume wafting across the bedroom!

For more information read, The Complete Guide to Sweet Peas Bernard R Jones

If Morning Had Questions, poetry
by Diane Landy

When Morning awakens,
As Sun peeks past Earth's crest,
Her Birdsong beckons us
Away from our blankets,
Away from our calendars,
Away from ourselves.
To join her outdoors
And breathe in her splendor
With a warming, welcome kiss.
Her essence enlivens dewdrops
Who Wink, sing, and celebrate The New Day
Beneath a brightening, timeless, outer space sky.
Morning's Glory.
A reminder.
A reflection.
A gift.
“Do you see it?”
Promise whispers on the breeze.
“Can you hear it?”

Bio: Children's author and mosaic artist, Diane Landy, loves playing with words. Approaching story as a puzzle, she aims for emotional resonance, lively read-aloud musicality, and enduring themes. Her first book, Adventures with Zap, uses comics to engage ages 4-8 in playful writing practice, earning “Best Books of 2018” from the literacy-loving Children's Trust and a double-feature in the Wembley author's tent at the Miami Book Fair. Months later, Diane's retinal diagnosis plunged her into an upside-down ocean of vision loss which, ironically, has broadened her perspective. Today, almost fully blind, the world is
upright again.
Prompts credit: Cindy Bousquet Harris

Let's play writing! Kids ages 4-8 draw-n-write inside Zap's comic book.

Fragrances of Summer, Abecedarian poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

A sweet scent permeates the air.
Billowing curtains herald it’s arrival.
Climbing to my second story window.
Dozens of pale blue buds rub against the screen.
Each imparts the fragrances of past summers.
Filling my room with days to come.
Gone now, are those childhood times.
Hard to imagine, all those lilacs gone.
I can still see the one white flowered bush in the hedge row of purple.
Joining other memories of childhood joys.
Keeping the mulberry tree to feed children and birds.
Long lazy summer days from my mind.
Many insects are silent, killed by over spraying.
Nests are empty of hatching broods.
Open fields are hemmed in by houses.
People push their agenda to control nature.
Quietly, she waits to have her way.
Rising seas, melting polar caps continue.
Storms multiply in number and intensity.
Time to pause to remember the simple days of youth
Understanding that we must stop the tides of pollution
Virtual scenarios are no substitutes for the earth.
We can change our world for future generations.
X is where to start, here and now.
Years of damage can be rolled back.
Zones, rebuilding, to replenish our earth for all.

Smiling, I plant a lilac tree.

Pink Rose, poetry
by Janet Tabora

Blushing bloom drawing my gaze;
and gives me delight every morning.
Sweet perfume surrounds me velvet petals, soft to the touch.
Bees and birds gather around you, singing and dancing a beautiful song.
Your rose water is appealing to my taste;
and you provide beauty to nature, for everyone to enjoy.

“Pink Rose” was published in The Writers’ Guild Artifact Nouveau by the San Joaquin Delta College Writers’ Guild.

Bio: Janet Tabora was born with multiple disabilities. She is visually impaired, and has Cerebral palsy. Janet was born and raised in the Philippines. She lives in Stockton, California and is a student at San Joaquin Delta College, majoring in Computer Science. She will be transferring to Sac State University to complete her education. She would like to publish her writings to share her life experiences and to inspire others. She writes essays and poetry. Her hobbies are writing, reading, and listening to music.

Ode to Trillium, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

Three leaves, three petals,
three sepals-trio of triplets,
threesomes, like my siblings
and me, though we're not
so alike or symmetric as I
with two cherished cousins.

That number also suggests
the Trinity, the divine group,
the holy combination.
But you flowering triad
possess a less than
heavenly reputation.
Known by other less
appealing names-wake-robin
or stinking Willie because
of an unpleasant scent.

You shoot up from the ground
in Spring like a rocket
ignites underneath.
Your blooms show greenish-yellow
or purplish-red or white.
I admire your geometric form,
love your subdued colors,
your lightly mottled leaves.
Count you as a blessing,
a prized addition to my flowerbed.

Horn of Corral del Cielo, poetry
by Rocco Romeo

In valley cloven between sea and stone,
At feet of mountains blunt with years weighing,
Beyond raging foam of canyon sheer,
Hidden in secret depths,
On coasts of California wreathed in sun.

Far south the Salinas River comes from,
Running from mountain to sea,
Through valley ever wreathed aflame,
And west it runs through cleft
In mountains like a missing tooth,

And to the south lies a mountain
Whose crest rises from valley sheer,
Like a bull’s horn,
Hence its name Mt. Toro.

On knees of rock rising from fog,
The bull rages/z if a star drew near,
On upper slopes ridge of rock rises,
A chimney of the raging heart,
Plume of rock on high/pedestal above canyon sheer,

Home to pasture of the heavens
Rising heaven bound on plume of mountain polished with wisdom below,
Rising above fields of sunshine gold the pinnacle ascends,
Charging skyward as if to join celestial kin,
And may its horn blow proud of grinding years endured,
Pen’s wisdom newly inspired.

Bio: Rocco Romeo is blind and has a hearing impairment. He graduated from Salinas Highschool, the same high school that John Steinbeck graduated from just over a century ago. He currently attends Hartnell College in Salinas, California and is majoring in English. The street that Rocco lives on is Corral del Cielo which means The Pasture of Heaven. His poem is about the mountain on which he grew up and still lives, Mt. Toro.

Perception, nonfiction
by Kim Hernandez

As I walk toward the sunset, I marvel at the light shimmering and dancing onto the sidewalk, cars, and leaves of the trees. My whole world swallowed in the deep yellow of God's candle.

Warmth thrums next to my skin. As I am awed by the beauty and color of the drowsy descending sun … I take the shot.

I do not know why this time-of-day calls to me. Hot languid rays gently wash over me and help to knit and stitch my tattered spirit together yet again. Allowing for a healing heated space. The place where my inner child resides, safely tucked away.

I follow my usual path, through overhanging trees, the pond, by the picnic tables to make a complete circle. The sidewalk leads me back to where I began my journey.

I turn one more time to look at the Lemon Sherbert sky.

I need to capture this beautiful scene. I take the shot. Unsure if I captured the moment. Stargardt's disease has taken most of my eyesight, although none of my vision. Because I am a writer, whole other worlds live in my imagination. Turning to go home, I know I have a treasure in my possession. It's my perfect Perception.

“Perception” was published in the 2023 issue of the Florilegium.

Bio: Kim Hernandez is an avid reader. She has had photos and poetry published locally. Kim looks forward to more opportunities in the future.

Metal Sails, nonfiction
by leonard tuchyner

I remember launching my 9-foot sailboat in the early 1960's. I sailed from Tampa Bay. I planned to make the trip crossing the bay to the mainland.

Many times, I would launch in Tampa or Biscayne Bay just to enjoy the water and sun — the leisurely movement through calm waters, or the irregular fast and slow motion caused by the shadows of clouds over the water. They made a change in the speed of breezes as the clouds passed overhead. Sometimes the sailing was rough, as strong winds from the ocean kicked up the surf and made the little boat move spryly over the turbulent sea. The occasional squall made for exciting boating.

The memory of this excursion is particularly vivid, partially because I was accompanied by three dolphins as I set forth. They were full grown and could have easily swamped my little vessel. But I knew they were friendly and just having fun as they propelled themselves alongside and in front. I was moving at a small percentage of the speed they were capable of.

I was on a tight tack as I headed across the bay, and halfway to Tampa, when I noticed that the winds were picking up. In the distance I could see a darkening sky, and I knew a squall was coming. Being in unfamiliar waters, I decided to turn around and abort the rest of the intended journey. By the time I made the decision, the wind was already blowing hard. As I came about, the sails swung into a 45-degree position, which caused the sailboat to cruise on the bay equalling the wind speed. Before I knew it, I was back at my starting point. It took only one-quarter of the time I had needed to get to my turn-around point.

Today, as I reminisce, I'm thinking of the new cargo ships which are also using sails to supplement their locomotive speed. This is in response to global warming and the money saved by their use. Production of these sails is on the increase and is becoming more efficient. In addition, they can be retrofitted. These sails don't look anything like the old-fashioned cloth variety. First of all, they are made of metal, and they are comprised of a relatively narrow surface. I've never actually seen any of these, but I understand they look something like a faceted popsicle stick. They are controlled by electronics that can achieve the greatest efficiency
from the winds.

Yoo-hoo! That's great. To whatever amount they can cut down on diesel fuel, it is greater for the environment and global warming. Also, these innovations have to cut down somewhat on prop-driven turbulence.

It wouldn't surprise me to find out that racing yachts also use them. That's going too far, as far as I'm concerned. Where is the beauty of that? Where the romance? What place is there for sailors handling the yard arms? I'm sorry, but a bunch of people pushing buttons is not my idea of sailing. The billowing of fabric sails is part of the glory of the whole endeavor. How far we have come to that end I don't know.

So, batten down the hatches — there is a storm brewing between the good old sailing days and new-fangled metal popsicle sticks.

Seasonalscapes (Adapted Senryu 5, 7, 5) poetry
by Kate Chamberlin

Cows slip under fence,
joke on the Marsh Marigold.
flowers have two names.

Balcony with roof,
Jack and Jill in the pulpit:
a rare, lucky find.

white, red, and green plants.
sunlight splashing through the trees:
Trillium Heaven.

toad Shade Trillium,
three white petals but no stem:
rare Sessile trillium.

Colored tapestry:
Joe-Pye Weed, Mouse-eyed Hogweed,
shimmer in sunlight.

Glacier carved Drumlin.
wild flowers grow only here:
do not dig them up.

The undulating
Popcorn balls of pre-cherries
Ripen into fruit.

Royal Anne’s leaf-laden
branches shade young lovers on
sultry summer days.

Rain splatters window
ominous Thunder rumbles
deluge of warm rain.

The boys of Summer
Baseball caps and mitts in hand
Crowd roars at ball park.

Fourth of July flags
Flutter as the parade comes
Rhythmic drums and fifes.

Royal Anne cherries
Red and plump, ready to pick
Puree on ice cream.

Labor Day ending
Lazy, hazy days of fun
School days loom ahead.

Part VII. A Tapestry of Life

Do You Believe In Magic? fiction Honorable Mention
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Early one June afternoon, three small girls sat on the steps of a two-story house in the middle of the block. The old neighborhood of working-class homes drowsed in late afternoon sunshine. Most of the houses needed paint, and the cars parked along the street or in the graveled drives looked tired and worn.

Louisa Mary Lijewski 'bones”' was a thin girl of seven with perpetually skinned knees. Paula Skiba, 'Buttons”' had coarse straight black hair that was her mother's despair. No matter how carefully she rolled it up on plastic curlers each Saturday night, by the end of Sunday mass, it straggled down like the mane of an ill-kept Shetland pony. 'Bows”' (nicknamed for the ribbons tying the ends of her long dark braids), was the smallest of the three friends. She sat on the bottom step of her grandmother's house, drawing circles in the dirt with the big toe of one grubby bare foot.

“Do you believe in magic?” she asked.

“Nope,” answered Bones. “My ma says to spit in one hand and wish in the other and see which gets filled up faster.”

Buttons, chewed meditatively on a grass stem before giving her considered opinion. “I think if you pray and light a candle, you can sometimes get stuff you really want, but I don't guess that is magic. My mama says God sometimes says no, but he always listens.”

“My mom reads me books at bedtime like Peter Pan and stories about fairies and stuff,” Bows, explained. “If magic was real and you could rub a magic lamp and get wishes, what would you wish for, do you think?”

Bones looked shyly down and said: “I'd wish to be pretty like you Bows. Even teachers smile when they see you. Old Mrs. Whitaker doesn't think you are going to do something bad, like pick her flowers, just cuz you are standing looking at them.”

Buttons' black eyes sparkled, “I'd want curly hair that wouldn't always be falling in my eyes,” she said decisively. “And I'd like to travel around and see new places. What would you wish for Bows?”

“I don't know. Sometimes, I think I would like to go someplace where you can read lots and lots of books and not have to stop to go to bed if you don't want too. Then I could get really smart and I could find a good job so my mom wouldn't have to work so hard to take care of us.”

Ten years flew by and three young women sat on the porch swing in the shade.

“It's all going to be different after graduation,” mourned Paula. Her shoe button black eyes rested on the slender girl on her left. Lou smiled and ran a graceful long-fingered hand through the froth of permed black curls framing her friend's wistful pixie face.

“Yes, things will change, but not everything. When I get settled in New York, you can visit and you know I'll write and tell about everything! We'll keep in touch and always be best friends. Tell her Deedee!”

The petite girl on the other end of the swing jumped to her feet to gather her two friends in a group hug.

“Of course we'll both write and with Lou in New York working for the modeling agency and me in California at college, you'll be able to visit both ends of the country whenever you want. Greyhound does those long-distance ticket deals all the time. It's all good, you silly! We have been best friends since we were little, and we always will be! That hasn't changed and it won't if we work to keep it that way. Come on. Let's see if Gran has any iced tea!”

From the green depths of the oak tree in the front yard, a small, wizened face smiled. Fairy godmothers would have a place in the world as long as little girls dreamed and believed hard enough in their dreams.

Heartbeat, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

proof of existence
gentle reminder of fragile reality
yours was the
soft quick rush
wanting to be born
his was the calm movement
from time to infinity

more amazing
is the swirling, motion
back and forward
light, leaping, dance
ocean, never ceasing.
God’s heartbeat

We're Swimming, poetry
by Olivia Backal-Balik

and in love, i think
climbing over each other laughing
you push me down
and we're struggling against the current
but it's fun and salty and us
naturally, i get on your back
and we're a force
pushing against god
my arms flanked in front of you
screaming, a fruitless war with water
but it's fun and salty and us
your hair wet against my skin
soft, because i love

can i hold on to you and this moment?
moving fast i
find it escapes me
the tide, you, my feet
i'd gladly let it take me, pull
me out from what i understand
if you'd come too
but you don't
who am i in this ocean without anchor?
i can give myself to the sound
bury my aching knees in absence
it's salty and slow
but not us
sometimes i imagine
the blueness of this ocean matches my insides
bursting with languid teals and muted desire
i want so much to love you in our ocean
but (lately) i sense
it's only mine

Bio: A Philadelphia-born and -based artist, Olivia is a gardener, writer and educator. They are hard-of-hearing and live with severe chronic hand pain. Invested
in liberatory community building, Olivia aspires to Julius Eastman’s words: “No other thing is as important or as useful. Right thought, Right Speech,
Right action, Right music.”

Broken Ring, fiction
by Nicole Massey

I can’t help it, every single time I walk into what used to be our bedroom I see her wedding set. I also can’t bring myself to take it off the dresser and hide it away. My best friend tells me all the time that I’m not going to heal if I keep picking at the wound, but if I hide it in a drawer or somewhere else, I’m afraid I’ll start to forget our life together. So I leave it there, forcing memories back into my consciousness.

A well-respected theory in brain science states we don’t have audio and video recorders in our brains, and we edit a memory when we bring it up from long term episodic memory – you know, the part of our memories that store what happened, not how we do things or how that all fits together. So I may be changing my memories of her and us, but I don’t care, because that’s all I have left.

She has none of it left, because traumatic brain injury, or TBI, can steal memories from us. And with her it stole me from her, and that meant it stole her from me.

Is love a given between two people? I thought so before the accident, but I’m not sure about that anymore. She says she doesn’t love me, though she doesn’t put it that hard – she says that she doesn’t remember loving me. It seems about the same to me.

Malcolm’s in jail, and I’m told he’ll spend a long time there. I can’t understand someone who tries to destroy something they can’t have, but the CCTV cameras on the roof of that high-rise, the ones put there to stop base jumpers like her and the rest of her crew, which included Malcolm, saw him cut lines in her chute. He confessed and gave his reasons. I also had to talk to them, because she couldn’t anymore, thanks to him. She told me about his attempts to talk her into choosing him, and I hope that my editing of those memories hasn’t put in that look of distaste she had on her face when she told me about it. And of course, there are also the recordings from her phone; those were enough to lock him up by themselves. Others say I should delete them from my phone, but she sent them to me, and I’m hanging on to every tiny slice of what I have left of her.

I hoped, when I saw her in the hospital, that she’d recognize me, but she didn’t; that’s where the dread started. Hope can be cruel, because it can make someone believe something when it’s not true, and hope for change that can’t happen. Her body healed, but the memories didn’t come back, and she lost everything from her second year of middle school up to the accident. What’s it feel like to spend six years getting a Master’s degree, plus all of high school, then lose it all? I don’t want to know, and far more than that, I don’t want her to know either.

We tried, both of us, tried hard, but it never worked. I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how to interact with someone who looked like my wife but didn’t have the same personality, the same interests, the same everything. I thought we might have a chance, but then she handed me her rings, said she wasn’t going to make it work, and left. It might have been a little easier if she took time to move her clothes and other stuff, but she left with the clothes she got after the accident and a few things from the bathroom sink. I know I should clean all that out, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Just like her wedding set.

I talk to a therapist every week, but she doesn’t make me feel any better. I’m in a broken home, living a broken life, stuck reliving broken dreams.

A ring is at its core a circle, sometimes a fancied up circle, but still a circle. The circle is unbroken, a symbol of the love between those who wear matching ones. The circle of our love is broken, and I doubt there’s any way to make it whole again. So I wear my broken ring, and feel it there on my hand all the time. But it doesn’t mean to me what I thought it meant before – before Malcolm and the “accident” he caused. And I am alone in a personal hell, because I’ve lived in paradise, and I can never go back – my broken ring prevents it.

Nearing the End, fiction
by Marcia J. Wick

Part 1.

Precisely at six, Joelle's guide dog swipes his cold, wet nose across her cheek. His heavy breathing urges her back to reality. The abrupt awakening shatters her vivid dreams. Sights and sounds so intense with her eyelids closed evaporate when they pop open. She doesn't need to see to know Dexter's round brown eyes are inches in front of her blue ones.

“I'm coming, I'm coming. Back up, you brute.” Would he ever learn to let her sleep until she woke naturally?

The early feeding and relieving ritual falls to Joelle. Her husband is in the habit of rising even earlier to be first in line at the gym for his morning swim. In turn, Mark handles the nighttime routine while she snuggles under the comforter with a cozy mystery or historical novel.

“Give me some space, please.” She nudges Dexter and hunts under the bed for her slippers. The persistent 70-pound black Lab yields only inches lest she forget his urgency. Their morning routine doesn't take long. Kibble in one end and out the other in five minutes flat. The coffee maker churns out her daily ration of caffeine in the same time. She's back in bed with a full mug by 6:10, tuned into the morning news.

After his workout, Joelle's husband returns home and serves her breakfast in bed. It's the same every morning-an egg on toast with half a banana accompanied by half an apple, pear, or orange depending on the season. She doesn't complain about the lack of variety considering he dotes on her that way.

Their morning ritual seldom changes; the predictable routine suits her.
Long gone are the hectic days hustling the children off to school before dawn and getting to work on time. In their late 60's, they deserve a lazy retirement.

She shuffles to the toilet then into the kitchen, Dexter velcroed to her left leg. Was he that attached or suffering from food insecurity? She fumbles for the light switch, not that it matters to her. Lights on or off, Joelle only sees shades of mud, but perhaps her guide dog appreciates enhanced vision under the fluorescent fixtures.

Advancing to Dexter's bowl at the rate of an inch worm, expecting to encounter one of his bones with her toe, she stumbles over a heavy object in the middle of the floor. Thrown off balance, she lands clumsily on the other side of the lump. Lifting onto her hands and knees, the dog consoles her with wet kisses. Bewildered by the unseen hurdle that had caused her to fall, she asks Dexter, “What was that?”

Too shaken to stand, she circles on her knees to confront the offending obstacle. Was it a sack of potatoes? A bundle of laundry? Usually, her husband was over-vigilant and mindful of potential hazards on her behalf. Nothing in the house was ever rearranged or left to chance. God forbid she left a half-empty glass of water on the counter. He'd sweep the glass away, wash it, and return it to the cupboard before she could retrieve it. If he saw her fumbling to find it 10 minutes later, he'd refill the glass and say, “Here it is, dear,” as if it had been there all along. Even though Joelle was blind, she was on to Mark's tricks.

So, what was the heavy obstacle carelessly left in her way? She patted the nylon bag. Exploring with her fingers, she screamed and retracted her arm in fright. Something hairy had fallen out of the sack. Trembling, she stood and gripped the counter for support. She nudged the weighty object with a foot to see if it stirred.

“What is it, Dexter?” If only the dog could talk. He wasn't growling or acting like anything was amiss. She stroked her dog's head for comfort and realized he was nuzzling the bag with his nose.

“Leave it,” she commanded. Dexter sat back on his haunches and issued a subtle whine.

Reluctant to touch the mysterious object again, she edged aside and retrieved her white cane from her backpack parked on a nearby kitchen stool. She flung the cane out to the side opposite Dexter so the sections snapped together without hitting him. Gripping the elongated tool by the handle, she timidly probed with the tip to gauge the shape and circumference of the stumbling block at her feet.

Bulky, long, round…slowly, a picture emerged in her mind.

Was it a body? A man's body? Her husband's body?

“Oh my God, Mark!” She fell back to her knees, frantically searching for a hand, a face, a heartbeat.

Part 2.

Mark lay inert in their bed, the comforter tucked under his chin. He couldn't recall the incident that had landed him on the kitchen floor or anything the doctors said during his three days in the ICU.

His wife had explained, “A stroke has paralyzed your left side and impaired your ability to speak.”

The tables had turned. Normally, he took care of his blind wife. Now, he was dependent on Joelle to wait on him, to speak for him, to interpret the medical jargon. Would the loss of his senses be permanent?

His throat was dry. What he wouldn't give for a glass of cold water. He waved his good hand in the air, trying to catch her eye to no avail. If only her guide dog understood sign language.

He groaned like an injured animal and she rushed to his bedside. Her mouth moved but he couldn't understand what she was saying. Without his hearing aids, even when he bothered to wear them, he couldn't hear a damn thing. He hoped the loss of his senses was temporary.

“Here, blow on this whistle so I'll know when you need me.” Joelle pressed a whistle Mark had used as a P.E. teacher into his good hand. Dispirited, he moved the device to his lips and managed to make it squeak.

“You'll have to blow harder than that. I'll never hear you from the other room,” she enunciated loudly.

How ironic, all these years, he had compensated for her loss of sight. Now, he was the invalid, deaf, mute, and paralyzed. Was it retribution for his impatience with her blindness? Perhaps the universe was paying him back for his hyper-vigilance and obsessive need to control her environment. Why did it irk him when Joelle spilled something, dropped something, or couldn't find something?

How many times had she told him, “Please don't move my water glass. I knew exactly where I left it. You make it harder for me when you do things like that.”

He tried to ignore the clutter she left around their home-her shoes by the door, dirty clothes on the floor, an open bag of cheese on the counter. Half the time, he straightened the house without incident; the other half, he was in trouble.

Joelle's repeated pleas echoed in the back of his mind.

“I wasn't done with the cheese,” she chastised. “I was planning to wear those clothes again. Where did you put my shoes?”

No surprise, she often yelled at him in frustration- angry or happy, he had a hard time hearing her. She had nagged him for years to consult with a different audiologist but he had stubbornly insisted, “I can hear you just fine, dear.” She couldn't see whether he was wearing his hearing aids or not, so what did it matter? The devices were uncomfortable and, truth be told, he enjoyed the silence.

He'd never live down his embarrassment the year she yelled at him in front of their guests during Thanksgiving dinner.

“Could you get me more salad, dear?” Was that what she asked? He rose and removed her plate, but she reached out a hand and stopped him.

“What are you doing, Mark?” she raised her voice, interrupting the meal. “Did you hear what I said?”

“You asked for more salad, right?” he guessed.

“No, I said, 'I love you, dear'.” Not even close. Why was she willing to put up with him?

Mark made a second valiant attempt to blow into the whistle and please her. When she applauded, he mumbled, “I love you, dear.”

Thanks to the stroke, his words were unintelligible.

“You'd like something to eat, dear?” she guessed.

Part 3.

Joelle interrupted his doggy dream.

“Wake up, Dexter.” She nudged his graying coat with a toe. The old boy was reluctant to rise.

Used to be, her guide dog eagerly woke her before dawn. After her husband had collapsed in the kitchen, Dexter started waiting for her to wake up naturally. He seemed to sense she needed to rest after caring for her sick husband all day.

“Let's go, buddy. Time to go potty. If you don't go out soon, you'll soil your bed.”

Dexter rolled onto his back and moaned in doggy language, “One more minute.”

“Ready for breakfast?” That did the trick. Normally, Dexter jumped up at the suggestion of food, but that morning he struggled to stand.

Mark slept through their morning ritual. Long gone were the days he rose early for a morning swim at the gym. These days, he wouldn't wake until the caregiver arrived mid-morning to help with his hygiene, meals, and medicine. Despite months of intensive physical and occupational therapy, he hadn't fully recovered from his stroke three years earlier.

Mindful of her advancing arthritis, Joelle walked gingerly to the toilet then into the kitchen; Dexter stayed close by her side. Was he worried about losing his way?

The old dog's appetite was beginning to wane, so Joelle added warm chicken broth to his kibble. Dexter hovered over his bowl, Not sure if he was finished eating or not.

“Had enough, Dexter? Let's go outside.” He limped behind his handler and halted at the door.

“You can do it,” she coaxed him down the steps. Once on the lawn, he circled and circled, sniffed and sniffed, then stood, confused. At her gentle urging, he squatted and did his business.

“Good boy. Inside,” Joelle encouraged. Lately, their routine required more than 20 minutes. Her old guide dog plodded behind her to the bedroom, collapsed onto his bed, and resumed chasing squirrels in his dreams. Mark hadn't budged. Joelle sighed as the old dog and old man snored in stereo. She reached over Mark and turned on the bedside monitor.

Alone, she shuffled back to the kitchen. The coffee pot sizzled with her daily ration of caffeine. She fixed herself a bowl of strawberry yogurt with granola for breakfast, one ear tuned to the morning news and the other attentive to the monitor.

Before long, she punched the remote and turned off the television-nothing but bad news.

At 10:00, the caregiver rang the doorbell. Mark began to moan. Despite being incoherent, he became agitated when the nurse arrived, sensing his privacy would be invaded.

For several months following his stroke, Joelle came running when her husband summoned her with a tweet on a whistle. She cared for his personal needs. Now, he lacked the strength to whistle, and she needed help to manage the higher level of care he required.

She followed the caregiver into their bedroom with a water glass and pill dispenser at the ready. One pill for high blood pressure, another for edema, a blood thinner, a laxative, an anti-anxiety drug, and one last pill for high cholesterol.

Would that there was another pill to help her cope with their decline.

The caregiver dispensed the meds, transferred Mark from the bed to a bedside commode, changed his Depends, and settled him back into bed with a breakfast tray.

How much longer would her invalid husband linger? How long would her old guide dog live? When the time came, how would she manage to let go?

Bio: Marcia J. Wick is a blind, grey-haired grandmother retired from a professional writing career. She write freelance if it pays, for fun if not. Her work
has appeared in the Motherwell blog, Chicken Soup for the Soul, The Bark, Guide Dogs for the Blind Alumni News, and Magnets and Ladders. Her personal
essays reflect on parenting, caregiving, living with a disability, and adventures with her guide dog. When not reading or writing, Marcia volunteers with
Guide Dogs for the blind, advocates for public transit, and enjoys the outdoors with family and friends. Contact her at

Wild Girl, poetry
by Brad Corallo

She refused to follow stupid rules.
Found no virtue in modern life.
Her choice for roommates
were the wild creatures of
the hills and forests.
Rivers and streams were her bathtub.
A cave her shelter
She was appalled by super markets,
processed foods and the uneven
distribution of money in society.

She lived rough.
Her skin showed weathering,
tangled hair often
held twigs and leaves.
Her feet, blistered and calloused.
She wore an old, tattered tunic
covered with rents and stains,
secured with a belt at her waist,
on which, a sheathed hunting knife hung.
She carried a quiver of arrows on her back
her bow was strapped to its side.
Like Artimus she was a dead-shot archer.

She was no body's fool,
having read many books
and periodicals when available.

Ultimately, Social Services gave up on her.
She made a lifestyle choice
that few could understand.
She did not care about this.
Fact was, for her
she made the only choice possible.
Genuine freedom was her core value.
She had no interest in the tepid illusion of freedom
worshipped by so many comfortable fools.

Author’s note: This piece was suggested by a story from Canadian author Charles DeLint that I read over 25 years ago, a song called “Wild Birds” and a unique interaction with a Behind Our Eyes list member.

The Dream of Spartacus, poetry
by Brad Corallo

loudly clashing metal.
Flashing sunlight reflections.
Heavily trodden sand,
darkened by blood and sweat.

Two men strive.
One against the other.

Clad in loin cloths and
short leather arm guards.
Each seeking advantage.
The red cloth thrusts,
upward with his short sword.
Giving the blue an opening.
He stabs under the red's sword arm.
The tip of his weapon
emerges from the other's back.
Blood fountains!
Thundering applause is heard.

He has done this,
how many times?
He doesn't know.
Many, many
far too many times.
He is not proud of his prowess
He is disgusted by
the meaninglessness of his life.

Over years and countless deaths
a dream has taken shape in his heart.
He and his fellow gladiators,
his brothers in blood and carnage
will join as one
forming an army
like the world has never seen.

He has found his purpose.
He will fight and ultimately die
to end the cruel bondage
of every trampled slave
under the foul, hated yoke of Rome.

He has no illusions.
The odds against success
are staggeringly huge!
He does not care.
Just mounting a credible effort,
to demonstrate the strength of
every soul in bondage, united
fighting and dying together,
will shake the foundations
of the known world forever!

The Landline, creative nonfiction
by Julio Leal

Let me introduce myself, not too many people may be familiar with me in today's society, especially the younger generations. In fact, I have heard that within the next two to three years, I may be a relic of the past .I am the landline telephone. In my prime, millions of households in the US and around the world had at least one landline telephone, if not more. I have had a long and very interesting life. Let me tell you how it all began and about some of the highlights of my life.

It all began in 1876. That means that I am 148 years old, 148 extraordinary years. The person I owe my life to is Alexander Bell: I call him Alex for short or dad. It took a few years for me to be popular, but when people learned about me and how I could improve their lives, almost every household in the US had a landline. I reached the height of my popularity in the latter part of the twentieth century. Things changed though when cellular phones were introduced and they really changed in 2007 when the iPhone was introduced. Let me tell you about some of the things I was privy to during my long life.

I was privy to planning for the numerous wars of the Twentieth Century. I was in the room when conversations took place between presidents, kings, and other dignitaries. I was instrumental in the planning for D Day and in the decision to bomb Japan to end the Second World War. I informed the world when the Soviet Union was no more. From death to births, from breakups to congratulations, I was in the room. From assassinations of presidents to the deaths of some of the most influential people of our times, I was there. From Emmys to Tonys to Oscars and more I advised the recipients of the coveted prize.

In looking back at my life, it has been a long and satisfying life. I have played an important part in society as a whole and in individual lives in particular. I now bow to the next generation of communication devices which will come along. From analog to digital, from party line to personal line, things have certainly changed over these almost 150 years. Thanks to dad and to Ma Bell, who gave me the opportunity to impact the lives of so many people. Along with the radio and television, without a doubt, I, the landline have been a staple of our modern society. I bid my farewell and say thanks to those of you who entrusted me with some of your most personal secrets. Thanks to those of you who counted on me through hurricanes and tornados, through earthquakes and power outages. Farewell and bon voyage: I will prepare to transmit the last calls of my lustrous life.

Bio: Julio Leal is a legally blind writer. Julio enjoys reading, traveling, and photography very much. Julio lives in Northwest Arkansas and lived in the Marshall Islands with his wife for four years.

A Train of Thought, memoir
by Elizabeth Fiorite

Trains have always held an almost mystical fascination for me. I have often lived near railroad tracks. Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, I lived a block away from the Harrison Street “El”, which could, purportedly, speed you to downtown Chicago in only eleven minutes. The riders, on their way to work or school, were strangers who rarely spoke to one another. They usually took refuge in reading. Their textbooks or newspapers, folded with economic precision, which afforded the reader the maximum amount of reading space within the minimum amount of geography.

In one central Illinois town, we lived close enough to the freight yards that the men who rode the freight trains without tickets knew that they could get a sandwich and a jar of hot coffee at our back door. Naïve as it seems, it never occurred to us to be fearful about opening the door to these strangers.

For many years, I rode the now defunct L and N (Louisville and Nashville) from Chicago to Mobile, Alabama. Sometimes I took a sleeping car for the eighteen- or twenty-hour ride. On those trips I learned that sitting up in the passenger train allowed you to ride in the direction the train was going, unless you chose to ride backwards. Riding in the sleeper, though it allowed you to lie more comfortably, but put you crosswise to the direction the train was traveling. I don't remember that it kept me from sleeping. Actually, once I got used to the rhythmical rolling and thumping, I found it relaxing.

Now, so many years later, I think about the trains with some nostalgia. I again live near enough to the railroad tracks to hear the trains rumble in the night. I don't think about trains during the day time. The noise of everything else keeps them far away, but at night, when the traffic slows, and the neighbors sleep, I hear the sounds of the night. A dog barks, dreaming, perhaps, of all the squirrels he chased that day. I hear the trains. Are they freight trains bringing produce to Florida? Are they car trains, groaning and lumbering with the weight of the cars for the Northerners who winter in Florida? Are they passenger trains, lulling their riders on their way to vacations or visits home? In the pre-dawn darkness, where the sighted and the blind are equals, I waken to the sound of a train whistle, a nostalgic sound, simultaneously comforting and disturbing. I hear the whistle and I yearn to go — where? I long for—what? I have grown accustomed to my “crosswise” travel through life, with familiar strangers, but I will not rest until I know where this rumbling train is going. Then, I think, I can embrace the darkness.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, for over sixty years. Her first career was devoted to Catholic elementary education. After vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, her second career began as a social services counselor for the adult blind in Jacksonville, Florida. Since retiring in 2013, she has enjoyed participating in church projects, Justice and Peace activities, facilitating peer support groups, and “Women of Vision.”. Her art work has been displayed in the Cummer Museum, and her articles have appeared in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, The Braille Forum, and in the National Catholic Reporter.

Hometown Serendipity, nonfiction
by Ann Chiappetta

My husband and I will celebrate our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary in 2024. As we accumulate marital longevity I think about the phenomenon of meaningful coincidence. Our history goes like this: My husband left New York, returning to his roots after serving six years in the United States Navy. He sailed around the world on a Naval ship. Meanwhile, I happened to have moved to San Jose, California. He made port in countries like Italy, Spain and Egypt while, at the same time, I appreciated the natural beauty of the Pacific coast and San Fransisco bay area. We didn't even know one another and yet our trajectories could have been measured in degrees of separation, like the delineation of town and city.

We each returned to New York at the same time. We must have passed one another at a party or on the street during the years prior to dating. We discovered that we knew some of the same people. We shared the same religious background and values. Even today I reflect on how fortunate we were to find one another and stay together. We faced many personal and family struggles, challenges and health scares. Two years after we were married I started going blind from an incurable genetic retinal disease. We struggled with finances and coping with my eye disease. My husband was diagnosed with type II diabetes in his forties.

We've stayed together and now, thirty-three years later, are in a life stage we wished for and hope to enjoy. I am still ruminating upon the possibility that we, as in humankind, are a random evolutionary quirk. But if this is true, it doesn't matter. The proof of meaningful coincidence is clear, for example, when we lay in bed, watching a comedy show together giggling like children.

I like to think moving from New York to Pennsylvania after retirement was part of the plan brokered long ago when we first met. The decision felt right. The purchasing of and locating the house went smoothly. It seemed the decisions we made were meant to be and we felt the omnipotent hand nudging everything into place.

The dreamer in me believes our paths were scripted in the stars. Luck could have played a role, as well as preparation and patience. Fateful purpose? I am curious but not on a quest to go hunt for answers. If the omnipotent force seeks me out and is compelled to divulge the secret of foreknowledge and match making, they know where to find me. I left a forwarding address.

Fugit-ives, poetry
by Margaret D. Stetz

if you find my
will you send them
they've been gone
so long
those dark and furry
a little wild, a little
always raised at
inconvenient moments
getting me
in trouble
they were
and bold
sometimes twisting
like a villain's
sometimes threatening
to go
full Frida
lazily across my nose
I never noticed
that they'd
crept away
hair by hair
leaving only
scrawny tails
that fade
to white
hard to see
or feel
until it was
too late
to draw them
until my face had
an empty
wrinkled narrow

If Rain Knew My Secrets, poetry
by Diane Landy

She's coming.
Knowing history unsaid.
Shall I run into darkness, under covers, in bed?

Is coming.
Might she whisper shocking truths.
Spreading long buried shame, from days of my youth.

Rain is coming!
How, oh how, will gossipers respond?
Must I cower and hide, forever and beyond?

Uh oh. Rain is here.
Slumping timid in her shower,
I'm Awash.
Free from guilt.
Rain's a friend! With superpower.

Scrapbook History, Circa 1980, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

my Journey into the Land
of Abundance and Happiness
I snipped and pasted things I wished for
on large, dull grey matte pages

my 1980s pipedreams are
shaped like secret inward parts
from unformed substance

in over abundant landscape
I stand beneath one bright rainbow
hold the beginning and the end
in my outstretched hands
where my journey begins

my skilfully wrought trails
in the depths of the earth
were woven fearfully,

I plotted out unlimited flights of
abundance and happiness
trajectory's hopeful archway.

my 1980s scrapbook, written in blue ink
reveals snapshots of hopes and dreams
when yet there was none.

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.